Archaeological Research

Collections Departments
Archeology Collections


Through its historical connection with the Department of Anthropology, the museum has long supported archaeological fieldwork in the Southwest and elsewhere. Over 50 years of research in and around Chaco Canyon, much of it in collaboration with the National Park Service, represents the strongest component of this work. In addition major field programs have focused on the European Palaeolithic , the Arctic and sub-Saharan Africa. Collectively, these projects have produced one of the largest and best documented, collections-based research resources in existence.

In addition the Maxwell Museum's Office of Contract Archaeology (OCA) conducts field projects throughout New Mexico as part of its funded activities.

The following highlights individual archeological research currently underway by Museum staff:

E. James Dixon, Director and Professor of Anthropology
As a result of climate change, rare archeological materials are melting from ancient glaciers and ice patches worldwide. Some of the spectacular organic artifacts that have been found include prehistoric bows and arrows, spears, hunting tools, baskets, clothing, and even human remains. These unusual discoveries have been preserved and frozen in ice for thousands of years and provide an unprecedented glimpse into the lives of ancient people and have captured public attention around the world.   This is the third year of a five-year grant from the National Science Foundation Office of Polar Programs to identify ice patches most likely to contain and preserve artifacts melting from the ice in Alaska’s Wrangell-St. Elias National Park.  With the funding from the National Science Foundation, several small glaciers are being revisited and surveyed annually by Dixon along with Native American participants and UNM graduate student Nick Jarman. This research was expanded in 2008 to include Alaska’s Lake Clark National Park under a five-year research contract with the National Park Service.  Collectively these research projects have received more than $1,150,000 in funding from both the National Science Foundation and National Park Service and will continue until 2012. Article (PDF)

David Phillips, Curator of Archaeology, Research Associate Professor The Maxwell's archaeology program includes a long-term effort to map the site of Pottery Mound, a large 14th century pueblo in the Rio Puerco Valley west of Isleta Pueblo.   The site was the scene of UNM’s Archaeological Field School for several years in the 1950s and early 1960s, under the direction of Dr. Frank Hibben and, in 1979, Dr. Linda Cordell.  In addition to the mapping, surface artifact inventory has been initiated, and the erosional cuts created by the Rio Puerco are being monitored.  Far more time is being spent on publishing research done half a century ago by Dr. Hibben.  Using student notebooks, maps, and photographs, Dave and Maxwell volunteer Jean Ballagh have completed detailed descriptions of field studies in 1954 and 1955.  They are close to completing a report on the field studies in 1957.  Additional major efforts took place at the site in 1958, 1960-1961, and 1979, so by the time it ends, the Pottery Mound publication project will probably have taken a decade.

Dorothy Larson, Data Manager
Dorothy’s research centers on the ceramics of the American Southwest, in particular the relationship between learning, identity, and variation in ceramic technological and decorative style.  Her current research focuses on the late Developmental to Coalition period transition in the Albuquerque area, which is frequently portrayed as a “frontier” or boundary between the Socorro District to the south and the Santa Fe District to the north. This perception is largely driven by the presence of two different ceramic types: (1) Socorro Black-on-white, a mineral-painted ceramic that defines the Socorro phase of the late Developmental period (AD 1050-1200) and (2) Santa Fe Black-on-white, a carbon-painted type that heralds the beginning of the Coalition period (AD 1200-1325).  At the onset of the Coalition period, Santa Fe Black-on-white, common in the Santa Fe District to the north, began to co-occur with mineral-painted Socorro Black-on-white in the Albuquerque area. Her recently completed dissertation research evaluated possible models for the social developments behind this change, including migration of new groups into the area or shifting social identities of existing groups. She concluded that carbon-paint technology was brought to the Albuquerque area by small groups of migrants from the Rio Puerco area to the west. Her ongoing research examines evidence that suggests that Albuquerque potters developed black-on-white pottery through copying the products of their neighbors rather than direct learning. Her plans for future research center on utility ware (unpainted ceramics) from the Albuquerque area; exchange of utility pottery usually occurs between more closely related groups than decorated ceramics and therefore, provides an important window on social relationships of a smaller scale.