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Community-Based Archaeology Field Training Course Description

SMU Anthropology 5681/5981


Kit Nelson


General Description

Community-based research and education has become a national and international movement that acknowledges the role of indigenous or local input in the creation of projects and research design. With this in mind, SMU-in-Taos and the SMU Anthropology department have initiated the first community based archaeology field school in the American Southwest. This field school focuses on the Ranchos de Taos Plaza and surrounding Hispano villages of the Taos region. Taos is home to a vibrant multicultural community with strong connections to a Spanish Colonial past, including colorful religious, culinary, and artistic traditions. The SMU field school is unique among field schools for this reason. Students not only learn about archaeology but also experience, first hand, the larger social context in which we do our work.

More and more, local communities are setting the agenda for archeological research in ways that resonate with cutting-edge theoretical and methodological initiatives. Our research, which was developed with significant community input, focuses on the multi-ethnic history of Hispano society including the spiritual ecology of penitentism and the material and social expressions of women's work Other projects include the archaeology of childhood on the plaza and Apache and Hispanic rock art recording. The Taos community will use this research to promote traditional values and highlight the heritage and economic concerns of a village that is struggling with the onslaught of tourism and the rapid gentrification of village life.

Our program at SMU-in-Taos places students in the middle of this living, traditional village for the purposes of research and education. They not only excavate in the shadow of the historic Saint Francis de Asis Church, erected in 1790 as a spiritual and physical refuge from raiding Plains Indians, but also in the homes and backyards of the villagers. They interact with community members on a daily basis and receive blessings and instruction in traditional culture by native scholars and village leaders. This includes participation in communal activities such as the annual plastering of the church and fiesta preparations. Rock art recording and survey encompasses spectacular vistas and one of the largest petroglyph districts in the northern Rio Grande.

State of the art and traditional archaeological techniques offer students the ability to learn skills that have broad applications in other disciplines and careers. Field school activities also ensure that students understand the scientific and social value of archaeology and the benefits of working with local communities. The primary teaching method for our archaeological field class is learning by "hands-on" experience. Formal lectures are used as an initial introduction to field and laboratory methods, regional culture histories, cultural resource law, and archaeological theory. However, lectures are only considered a brief introduction, and all students get continuous first-hand practical experience in these topics while in the field or laboratory.

The residential character of the field school facilitates the development of a "community of scholars" comprised of students and staff. Each student therefore is not only furthering his or her own education, but is part of a larger research community and project that is designed to produce significant new knowledge about the past in addition to permanent archives, collections and publications for future scholars and local descendant communities. Students will relate their work in the field to the overall research design of the SMU-IN-TAOS Archaeological Field Program.

The field and laboratory methods covered in the course include:

  • Site gridding
  • GPS mapping
  • Triangulation techniques
  • USGS map & compass work
  • Optical transit setup and use
  • UTM mapping
  • EDM (total station) setup and use
  • Processing of site forms
  • Floor plan mapping
  • Production of site maps
  • Wall profile mapping
  • Ceramic inventory & classification
  • Feature excavation
  • Faunal inventroy & classification
  • Square excavation
  • Historic artifact inventory & classification
  • Completion & processing of level forms
  • Lithic raw material identification
  • Conmpletion & processing of feature forms
  • Collections cataloging & history
  • Collection & processing of soil samples
  • Exposure to regional culture history
  • Collection & processing of radiocarbon samples
  • Rock art recording
  • Collection & processing of flotation samples
  • Public & tribal relations
  • Transect survey

    Evaluation and Grades

    To excel in this class, students must actively participate as responsible, self-starting members of a research team. This means being on the site every day, doing lab work, going on field trips, attending lectures, taking part in discussions, and doing some independent reading. The newly constructed Wendorf Information Commons houses the Fort Burgwin Library and computer center includes a substantial collection of books and papers relevant to the course and to the research project. Students are expected to use this collection to follow up on topics raised in lectures and discussions. There are no required readings for the course, but lecturers will indicate which readings in the library are most relevant to their topic.

    Grades will be based on participation and ability to work well in teams (50%), laboratory cataloging and analysis of spatial and artifact data (25%) and a final field practical (25%). The Field Practical will formally evaluate your abilities to carry out field procedures that you will be practicing all semester long, such as laying out a grid square, field identification of artifacts, compass navigation skills, EDM setup, and other field procedures.