Archeological researchers at The University of New Mexico secured a $200,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Interior Bureau of Land Management to study the prehistory of the under-researched southeast region of New Mexico and nearby west Texas.

“A Chronometric Study of Perishable Artifacts from Caves in the Guadalupe Mountains of Southeastern New Mexico and West Texas” is spearheaded by principal investigator Robert Dello-Russo, Ph.D., and co-PI Alexander Kurota of the Office of Contract Archeology (OCA), and includes coordination with organizations outside UNM, including the U.S. Department of Agriculture Lincoln National Forest, the University of Pennsylvania, the Western Archeological and Conservation Center, the New Mexico Museum of Indian Arts and Culture, the Guadalupe Mountains National Park, and the Carlsbad Museum and Art Center.

Dello-Russo and Kurota will head a research team to utilize existing museum collections of perishable artifacts to build a chronology of basket and sandal styles used by the people who lived in and around the caves in the Guadalupe Mountains. They will also re-document two of the rockshelter sites with new technologies, including a small unmanned aerial vehicle and photogrammetric mapping. In particular, they hope to determine dates for perishable artifacts found in the area to discover whether they are attributable to Formative era (1000 BC–500 AD) farmers, North American Archaic period hunter-gatherers (6000–500 BC), proto-historic hunter-gatherers, or perhaps all of the above.

"This study will ensure meaningful consultation with, and self-determination for, the Native American tribes who claim ancestry with the Guadalupe Mountain region." - principal investigator Robert Dello-Russo

Perishable artifacts are those that are made out of organic material, and include items such as sandals and baskets made of yucca. These items rarely survive the passage of time in harsh climates, but were preserved in the dry climate of the Southwest and in the protected rockshelter settings. Their preservation is of utmost importance as they can provide invaluable knowledge about the daily lives of those who lived on this land long ago.

“This study will ensure meaningful consultation with, and self-determination for, the Native American tribes who claim ancestry with the Guadalupe Mountain region,” says Dello-Russo. “In addition, the study will promote a culture of ethical compliance by ensuring that no artifacts with ceremonial value will be subjected to any form of analysis.”

The research team also includes Scott Gunn, a GIS and photogrammetry specialist from OCA; Erin Gearty, an archaeologist and specialist in the analysis of prehistoric sandals, textiles, twined bags and blankets with Carlsbad Caverns National Park; Pamela McBride, a consultant for the analysis of prehistoric ethnobotanical remains; and drone expert Tim Wester of A Line of Flight Video, LLC. Together, the team will work to carbon date and analyze perishable artifacts found in the museum collections and assess the current conditions of two archeological sites—Hermit’s Cave and Burnet Cave. Through the team’s partnership with the National Park Service, the findings will be communicated to a broad audience.

“This study will enhance the visitor experience at our National Parks and public lands by informing the public about our research results, through public talks, a professional technical report, a popular report and educational outreach in the form of educational brochures,” says Kurota.

The OCA is a division of the internationally recognized Maxwell Museum of Anthropology. OCA is a largely self-funded cultural resources management organization within UNM established in 1973 for the purposes of aiding clients (private, State, Federal and Tribal) in all aspects of compliance with Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act. OCA also incorporates this service into a strong, collaborative research program and has taken a leading role in innovative, large-scale and interdisciplinary cultural resource studies throughout New Mexico and adjacent states. Dello-Russo is the current Director of OCA and Kurota is a co-Principal Investigator and Project Director with OCA.

Photo of Guadalupe Peak by CarlCarlsonIV - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Link