The his­tory (and pre­his­tory) of a street cor­ner


Pasatiempo - - NEWS -

As early as De­cem­ber, de­mo­li­tion will com­mence at the old district court build­ing at the cor­ner of Ca­tron Street and Grant Av­enue. A few months later, Santa Fe County will build its new ad­min­is­tra­tion an­nex there — but not be­fore ar­chae­ol­o­gists have a fi­nal go at the site’s subter­ranean lay­ers. In July, the New Mex­ico Of­fice of Ar­chae­o­log­i­cal Stud­ies com­pleted a six-month se­ries of ex­ca­va­tions at the site. Most of the un­cov­ered fea­tures and ar­ti­facts re­late to the old Al­li­son School that stood on the site be­gin­ning in the 1860s. It was re­placed by Leah Har­vey Ju­nior High School, which opened in Jan­uary 1938, and then that build­ing was re­mod­eled in 1978 to form the Judge Steve Her­rera Ju­di­cial Com­plex.

“The se­quence is, we had an adobe build­ing [near Staab Street] that was the orig­i­nal school build­ing, then to the east of that there was a dor­mi­tory, three floors of brick on a lime­stone foun­da­tion,” said James Moore, leader of the ex­ca­va­tions by the Of­fice of Ar­chae­o­log­i­cal Stud­ies. “The adobe was de­mol­ished to build a laun­dry and in­fir­mary build­ing. We have thou­sands of ar­ti­facts, in­clud­ing lots of his­toric Pue­blo pot­tery and chip­stone ma­te­ri­als.”

It’s easy to pic­ture the Na­tive peo­ple of yes­ter­year chip­ping stone for pro­jec­tile points and hide scrap­ers, but the Span­ish in Santa Fe also used chipped-stone tools. They em­ployed sharp-edged stone flakes as cut­ting tools, and un­til the ad­vent of the safety match and the per­cus­sion cap, “the world was still in the Stone Age,” Moore said. “To start a fire, you used flint and steel. Flint is rock. And you used gun­flints for flint­lock weapons.” There were many combs un­earthed, which is easy to un­der­stand be­cause of the old girls’ school at the site. In the adobe build­ing, Moore found a key, some mar­bles, and pieces of slate. He wasn’t sure whether that came from black­boards or from a build­ing’s mansard roof — those were tra­di­tion­ally shin­gled with slate.

Moore be­lieves the adobe build­ing was built by An­glo set­tlers, rather than by Na­tive or Span­ish peo­ple. “There was an area where we could see adobes in­tact on the foun­da­tion, but you couldn’t distinguish it from the na­tive soil, be­cause it was made out of the na­tive soil. So to make sure we were fol­low­ing the wall, I had to dig through it to get to the foun­da­tion stones. In so do­ing, I was pulling sherds out of the adobe and I had our ce­ram­ics spe­cial­ist look at them and he dated them all to the 19th cen­tury. That demon­strates that this was not the Esquibel House.” That res­i­dence is be­lieved to have been built as early as 1693 and seems to be in­di­cated on a 1766 map of the city by Span­ish drafts­man José de Ur­ru­tia. “There have been sug­ges­tions the Esquibel House was on this prop­erty. We were look­ing for it.”

In search­ing for buried adobe walls, ar­chae­ol­o­gists can some­times distinguish them from the sur­round­ing earth by sub­tle dif­fer­ences in den­sity and color. “And some­times from the sound your trowel makes. When I hit a floor in a Pue­blo struc­ture, I can usu­ally tell from the sound of the trowel. But that’s not quan­tifi­able. And I can’t ex­plain it or de­scribe it.”

The old school in whose ru­ins Moore and his crew delved was founded in 1866 by David McFar­land, the first min­is­ter of the First Pres­by­te­rian Church in Santa Fe. The school’s teacher was Matilda Al­li­son, who ar­rived in 1881 and three years later took in 10 girls to be ed­u­cated in the ren­o­vated adobe. By 1889 the stu­dents at what was ini­tially known as the Santa Fe In­dus­trial and Board­ing School for Mex­i­can Girls were lodged in a dor­mi­tory just north of the Pres­by­te­rian church. Af­ter Al­li­son re­tired in 1903, the in­sti­tu­tion was called the Al­li­son School. In 1928, the old build­ing on the church grounds was put on the mar­ket, and the girls moved into a new build­ing, where they were joined by the stu­dents of the Mary James Mis­sion­ary Board­ing School for Boys. This build­ing was the Al­li­son-James School; the struc­ture re­mains at 433 Paseo de Per­alta.

The ar­chae­ol­o­gists un­cov­ered the walls of the dor­mi­tory’s foun­da­tion, the top of which was just a foot or so be­low the paved park­ing lot of the for­mer court build­ing. The most com­mon ar­ti­fact finds were sherds of his­toric Pue­blo pot­tery. “This was heav­ily used by the Span­ish: the dis­pos­able plates of Santa Fe. It’s in ev­ery Span­ish de­posit, be­cause get­ting pot­tery from Mex­ico was re­ally ex­pen­sive. We found a lit­tle ma­jolica and Mex­i­can glazed tin­wares, but there were also sherds from ves­sels that would have been im­ported over the Santa Fe Trail — white­wares and other ce­ram­ics of Amer­i­can man­u­fac­ture, which you don’t get be­fore [Mex­i­can in­de­pen­dence in] 1821, be­cause the Span­ish Crown had a very pro­pri­etary view on trade goods.”

Moore’s team also dug un­der the floors in­side the court build­ing. “Ev­ery­thing un­der the foot­print of the build­ing is pretty much gone,” he re­ported. “We did five test pits un­der the floor and hit seven feet of con­struc­tion in­fill, and cul­tural de­posits in this area don’t go down more than four or five feet.”

Cu­ri­ously, the site yielded no ar­ti­facts re­lated to El Pue­blo de Santa Fe, the an­ces­tral Tewa vil­lage also known as Oga­poge that was en­coun­tered dur­ing ar­chae­ol­ogy be­fore con­struc­tion of the Santa Fe Com­mu­nity Con­ven­tion Cen­ter right next door. “We didn’t find much in the way of Pue­blo at all,” Moore said. “We went down to where we hit ster­ile pre­oc­cu­pa­tion de­posits and we had a few scat­tered pieces of pre­his­toric pot­tery but no struc­tures, no buri­als.” How could there be vir­tu­ally no Pue­blo ma­te­rial, when, just a few hun­dred feet away, ex­ca­va­tions in 2004-2008 tal­lied more than 600,000 an­cient Na­tive Amer­i­can ar­ti­facts, as well as hu­man buri­als and pit struc­tures? “That’s a re­ally good ques­tion,” Moore said. “The pop­u­la­tion wasn’t that dense, for one thing. And as I un­der­stand it, the far­ther west they went at that site, the more and more sparse the cul­tural de­posits were. And this was once all flood­plain.”

Flood­ing in the area was not un­com­mon be­fore reser­voirs were built on the Santa Fe River and be­fore flows in lo­cal ar­royos were con­trolled. “The Ar­royo Mas­caras was less tame than it is now,” said

In July, the New Mex­ico Of­fice of Ar­chae­o­log­i­cal Stud­ies com­pleted a six-month se­ries of ex­ca­va­tions at the site. Most of the un­cov­ered fea­tures and ar­ti­facts re­late to the old Al­li­son School that stood on the site be­gin­ning in the 1860s.

ar­chae­ol­o­gist Stephen Post. “Be­fore the chan­nel was en­gi­neered, it used to flood and run across the park­ing lot of the civic cen­ter [which was de­mol­ished in 2006 to build the con­ven­tion cen­ter]. I think the pue­blo was on a low rise in that flood­plain set­ting — the ar­royo and the Santa Fe River kind of dom­i­nated that land­scape, and the Pue­blo folks chose a slightly higher lo­ca­tion where the soils were deep and well-drained. Also we don’t know that the Pue­blo peo­ple weren’t do­ing some en­gi­neer­ing to de­flect wa­ter, and then af­ter the vil­lage was de­pop­u­lated that main­te­nance would have ended and the ar­royo washed ev­ery­thing away.”

All the ar­ti­facts ex­ca­vated from the court­house site are now in boxes. “If the work is on pri­vate land, the landowner has the right to take pos­ses­sion of the ar­ti­facts,” Moore said. “If it’s pue­blo land, they have the right to take pos­ses­sion, or to have them cu­rated. If the state or fed­eral govern­ment con­trols the land, by reg­u­la­tion it is put into the repos­i­tory.” This is the state’s Ar­chae­o­log­i­cal Re­search Col­lec­tions repos­i­tory that holds about 8 mil­lion ar­ti­facts, in­clud­ing items col­lected by Mu­seum of New Mex­ico founder Edgar Lee Hewett in the early 20th cen­tury.

The re­cent ex­ca­va­tions at the old Al­li­son School site were con­ducted un­der the rules of the state’s Cul­tural Prop­er­ties Act, which “makes it un­law­ful for any per­son to ex­ca­vate, in­jure, de­stroy, or re­move any cul­tural prop­erty or ar­ti­fact on state land without an ar­chae­o­log­i­cal per­mit,” ac­cord­ing to the State His­toric Preser­va­tion Of­fice (SHPO). “It is also un­law­ful for any per­son to in­ten­tion­ally ex­ca­vate any un­marked hu­man burial, and any ma­te­rial ob­ject or ar­ti­fact in­terred with the burial, lo­cated on state or pri­vate land in New Mex­ico without a per­mit.” The agency’s Cul­tural Prop­er­ties Re­view Com­mit­tee re­views ap­pli­ca­tions con­cern­ing ex­ca­va­tions on state land — and on pri­vate land if the work in­volves me­chan­i­cal earth­mov­ing equip­ment. “We’re try­ing to make sure peo­ple aren’t go­ing in and us­ing me­chan­i­cal equip­ment on ar­chae­o­log­i­cal sites and do­ing ir­repara­ble dam­age,” said An­drew Zink, who is in charge of ar­chae­o­log­i­cal per­mits for SHPO. “Pri­vate prop­erty own­ers can pretty much do any­thing they want un­til they hit hu­man re­mains.”

A 1987 city ar­chae­ol­ogy or­di­nance runs in line with the state law. The

pro­po­nents of projects such as sewer-line trench­ing and build­ing de­vel­op­ment must con­tract for ar­chae­o­log­i­cal re­view. “That’s al­ways go­ing on, and the city does send a copy to SHPO for re­view,” Zink said. The city’s Ar­chae­o­log­i­cal Re­view Com­mit­tee con­ducts pub­lic hear­ings twice a month to con­sider plans and ar­chae­o­log­i­cal in­ves­ti­ga­tions. Re­cent ARC agen­das in­cluded ap­proval re­quests for ar­chae­o­log­i­cal mon­i­tor­ing of CableCom and Cen­tu­ryLink projects to trench for fiber-op­tic lines on sev­eral down­town streets, the New Mex­ico School for the Arts project to build new quar­ters at Sam­busco Cen­ter, and the Santa Fe Wa­ter Divi­sion’s trench­ing for wa­ter-line re­place­ment on the Santa Fe Univer­sity of Art & De­sign cam­pus.

There are three ar­chae­o­log­i­cal dis­tricts gov­erned by the City of Santa Fe Ar­chae­o­log­i­cal Re­view Or­di­nance. One is the His­toric Down­town Ar­chae­o­log­i­cal Re­view District, and one of its bet­ter-known projects was con­ducted at Sena Plaza east of the Palace of the Gov­er­nors. A se­lec­tion of the ar­ti­facts found by South­west Ar­chae­o­log­i­cal Con­sul­tants are on dis­play in a wall case just in­side the por­tal en­try to Sena Plaza on East Palace Av­enue. An­other ex­am­ple of the or­di­nance at work con­cerns the new Drury Plaza Ho­tel. Ex­ca­va­tions led by Moore turned up a cob­ble­stone street — pos­si­bly Santa Fe’s old­est — and a lime-slak­ing pit that prob­a­bly pro­duced plas­ter for the con­struc­tion of what is to­day called the Basil­ica Cathe­dral of St. Fran­cis of As­sisi.

The city or­di­nance also ap­plies on lands within the River and Trails Ar­chae­o­log­i­cal Re­view District. Speak­ing with Pasatiempo on June 30, Post asked, “When is a trail not a trail? The or­di­nance has caused us as ar­chae­ol­o­gists and his­to­ri­ans to come to grips with the ques­tion: Are all ruts equal?” He was re­fer­ring to the land­scape de­pres­sions that bear ev­i­dence to the Santa Fe Trail, which was ac­tive from 1821 un­til the ar­rival of the rail­road in Santa Fe in 1880. “Just yes­ter­day I doc­u­mented what I think is a thou­sand-me­ter-long sec­tion of trail that par­al­lels I-25. The way I rec­og­nized the be­gin­ning of it was a line of new-growth piñon and ju­niper.” Per­haps ruts of wagon-wheel-com­pressed earth hold wa­ter longer? “Yeah, and they were run­ning in a per­fect di­ag­o­nal line across the pre­vail­ing to­pog­ra­phy.”

Last is the Sub­ur­ban Ar­chae­o­log­i­cal Re­view District. The best ex­am­ple of work per­formed in this zone was in ad­vance of the de­vel­op­ment of the large Tierra Con­tenta sub­di­vi­sion on Santa Fe’s south side. Ar­chae­ol­o­gist Matthew Sch­mader ex­ca­vated sev­eral sites that yielded the re­mains of late Ar­chaic Pe­riod (5500 B.C. to A.D. 400) struc­tures. These were sea­sonal fam­ily camps that were oc­cu­pied for a month or two at a time, Post said. How did Sch­mader find them? “By look­ing at char­coal stains in ar­royo cuts: char­coal stains and fire-cracked rock,” Post said. “He showed through his ra­dio­car­bon dat­ing that these sites were lived in, or that the area was oc­cu­pied in sort of this hunter-gath­erer way, from about A.D. 950 back to about 1700 B.C. It’s re­ally cool, be­cause this use con­tin­ued right up well into the pe­riod that we as­so­ciate with farm­ing and agri­cul­ture of the An­ces­tral Pue­bloans.

“To me, what Matt was look­ing at was the tran­si­tion be­tween dif­fer­ent life­styles, the syn­the­sis of two dif­fer­ent peo­ples, and that the Ar­chaic peo­ple and hunter-gath­erer peo­ple were not only an­ces­tors of the Pue­blo farm­ers, but they were also be­ing as­sim­i­lated into Pue­blo so­ci­ety in the 800s, 900s, 1000s in the Río Grande. But it’s dif­fi­cult to prove these the­o­ries.”

An­other Ar­chaic site in the city was dis­cov­ered by Post in an ar­chae­o­log­i­cal sur­vey on North Ridgetop Road, off N.M. 599. “OAS com­pleted an ex­ca­va­tion on a 14th-cen­tury B.C. fam­ily camp that had been used, aban­doned, and re­built through time. There was a wick­iup [brush shel­ter] and an ac­tiv­ity area with hearths in front of the house, then a mid­den downs­lope. This was a lay­out very sim­i­lar to what you see in An­ces­tral Pue­bloan sites, but it was for hunter-gath­er­ers. But they were in there for a longer pe­riod of time; they were al­most seden­tary.”

The rel­a­tively ex­cit­ing na­ture of some of these re­sults of ar­chae­o­log­i­cal in­ves­ti­ga­tions be­lie the fact that the life of an ar­chae­ol­o­gist can be te­dious, full of the long and dif­fi­cult work of cau­tious dig­ging in all sorts of weather and the te­dium of enu­mer­at­ing and clas­si­fy­ing ar­ti­facts and writ­ing de­tailed re­ports, but there are also re­wards. Post last talked with The New Mex­i­can in midSeptem­ber 2016 for a story about the restora­tion of the court­yard walls at the Palace of the Gov­er­nors. Also last sum­mer, he was on the is­land of Yap in Mi­crone­sia with fel­low ar­chae­ol­o­gist James Snead, doc­u­ment­ing about 10 miles of his­toric stone path­ways. Post has been work­ing in the field for 40 years, and he re­cently re­tired from 33 years with the Of­fice of Ar­chae­o­log­i­cal Stud­ies, in­clud­ing as deputy di­rec­tor.

Moore, whose area of ex­per­tise is the chipped-stone ar­ti­fact, has been with OAS for three decades, but he has been em­ployed in ar­chae­ol­ogy around the state for 44 years. One of his ca­reer highs came just five years ago when he found a Fol­som Point frag­ment at the Space­port Amer­ica site near Truth or Con­se­quences. “I’ve worked on hun­dreds of sites, and there are cer­tain ones I re­mem­ber with great fond­ness. But a lot of times, the rea­sons I think they’re cool won’t carry over to other peo­ple. They look at me and go, ‘Um, but it was just dirt!’ One of my fa­vorites was a strat­i­fied Ar­chaic site along the Po­joaque cor­ri­dor that had mul­ti­ple lay­ers of Ar­chaic oc­cu­pa­tions, and all we got out of there were hearths and bro­ken rocks, but that’s some­thing I’m re­ally in­ter­ested in.”

There are sto­ries there, in those bro­ken rocks. Af­ter all, to­day we try to pic­ture the peo­ple who lived here hun­dreds and thou­sands of years ago. “How did they live here?” Moore said. “What were they do­ing here? There was an area at that site that was used for mak­ing large bi­fa­cial tools of ob­sid­ian, and I could prac­ti­cally tell you where that guy’s butt was sit­ting when he did that flak­ing.”

There was an area at that site that was used for mak­ing large bi­fa­cial tools of ob­sid­ian, and I could prac­ti­cally tell you where that guy’s butt was sit­ting when he did that flak­ing. — ar­chae­ol­o­gist James Moore

Ex­posed foun­da­tion of the old Al­li­son School dor­mi­tory, cour­tesy James Moore; top, Pres­by­te­rian Mis­sion School dor­mi­tory, photo Dana B. Chase, circa 1888, cour­tesy Palace of the Gov­er­nors Photo Ar­chives (NMHM/DCA), Neg. No. 110511; op­po­site page, ar­chae­ol­o­gists work­ing at the Al­li­son School site ear­lier this year, cour­tesy James Moore

Re­mains of brush struc­ture and do­mes­tic fire pits on North Ridgetop Road dat­ing to the 14th cen­tury B.C., cour­tesy Stephen Post

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