UNM anthropology team analyzes life in pueblo at crossroads

The once-thriving Tijeras Pueblo was situated at the junction of two canyons, one north-south and one east-west, within easy reach of a number of different ecoregions, as well as on a boundary between two distinct culture areas, the Pueblo to the west and the Great Plains to the east. Its location may have created both challenges and opportunities for the pueblo residents.

While the elevation of Tijeras Canyon makes this location a challenging spot for maize agriculture, the large number of nearby environmental zones, as well as the social connectivity afforded by the pueblo’s situation, may have afforded its residents access to an abundance of wild resources.

In a paper titled The Community at the Crossroads: Artiodactyl Exploitation and Socio-environmental Connectivity at Tijeras Pueblo (LA 581) recently published in KIVA, Journal of Southwestern Anthropology and History, a team from The University of New Mexico discusses the results from their analysis of the artiodactyl fauna from Tijeras Pueblo, focusing on what these data suggest about socio-environmental connectivity. The research presented in the Community at the Crossroads paper is part of a larger special issue of Kiva that focuses on Tijeras.

UNM anthropology department associate professor Emily Jones, the primary investigator of the research, explained that artiodactyls are members of the order Artiodactyla – even-toed hoofed animals, including bighorn sheep, deer, buffalo, elk, and pronghorn antelope. In the central New Mexico region, these animals were important parts of the meat component of the diet. Finding lots of them in an archaeological fauna tends to indicate that people were well-off for food – though there are exceptions to that rule.

Jones noted that all the authors on this paper are UNM-affiliated. Scott Kirk and Cyler Conrad are recent UNM Archaeology Ph.D.s currently affiliated with UNM as adjunct assistant professors. Caitlin Ainsworth, Asia Alsgaard, and Jana Meyer are all students in the UNM archaeology Ph.D. program. As the PI, Jones worked with all the co-authors to analyze the animal remains from Tijeras.

The analysis of the Tijeras fauna has been funded through a UNM Research Allocations Committee grant in 2014 and through the National Science Foundation (grant no 173262; 2017-2020), both to Jones.

History of horses

Emily Jones, associate professor and director of the Public Archaeology Graduate Program

The project focuses on the identification and analysis of the fauna recovered during the UNM archaeological field school directed by Linda Cordell back in the 1970s, and curated at the Maxwell Museum, Jones explained. Prior to this project, this fauna had never been fully analyzed.

“I got into this because [then-Curator of Archaeology at the Maxwell Museum of Anthropology] Dave Phillips suggested this would be a good class project for students who wanted to learn zooarchaeology. Soon after, [former UNM anthropology professor] Linda Cordell – now sadly deceased – arrived in my office and said, ‘I think you should do this.’ Anyone who was lucky enough to meet Linda knows, when she told you to do something, you took notice,” Jones recalled. Cordell taught at UNM from 1971 to 1987 and directed the UNM Southwest Field Schools at Tijeras Canyon.

The sheer size of the Tijeras Pueblo collection delayed results.

“It’s a huge collection, with tons of specimens and lots of diversity – another way in which Tijeras Pueblo is unusual. Many Southwestern faunas only contain a limited number of species, but not Tijeras! Both factors mean this kind of analysis takes a large amount of time,” Jones remarked, adding that it was ideal for her as a professor to work on the large assemblage collaboratively with students.

“… In the 14th and 15th centuries, the Albuquerque Basin had a huge and thriving population. Those people were the ancestors of our Puebloan neighbors today.”

– Emily Jones

The analysis yielded fascinating results. This article focusing on the artiodactyls presents a picture of life at Tijeras that’s quite different from that at similarly aged sites such as Pottery Mound Pueblo near Los Lunas, N.M. Jones and her team found that the people of Tijeras had abundant access to highly-valued large prey items – that is, animals such as buffalo, bighorn sheep, deer, elk, and pronghorn.

“One of the things we know they were doing was trading,” Jones said. “Plains-Pueblo interactions were really important and facilitated exchange of many items, including but not limited to food, tools, jewelry, ceramics, blankets, and tallow. Another important resource that can be reached by going through Tijeras is salt gathered from the dry lakes of the Estancia (or Salinas) Basin. This was likely traded as well.”

Tijeras Pueblo was occupied between approximately AD 1313 and 1425. No one lives at the Pueblo now, but it is considered an ancestral site by the people of Isleta Pueblo. However, visitors can tour the site, which is open to the public and located on National Forest Service land.

“I want to give a shout-out to the Friends of Tijeras Pueblo, which is a terrific group. They maintain a self-guided trail and offer a monthly lecture series and are a huge contributor to knowledge about this site,” Jones remarked.

Jones noted that the Albuquerque basin and adjacent areas are often left out of regional pictures of the archaeology of the Southwest – something, she added, that Cordell and other researchers, such as Judith Habicht-Mauche and Suzanne Eckert, have worked hard to address. This is in part because relatively little research has been conducted on sites that are in this region.

“It’s not atypical to hear more recent arrivals in Albuquerque say things like, ‘Oh, there isn’t much archaeology here’ as opposed to, say, near Chaco Canyon. But the fact is that in the 14th and 15th centuries, the Albuquerque Basin had a huge and thriving population. Those people were the ancestors of our Puebloan neighbors today. When we at UNM or elsewhere in New Mexico start a meeting with a land acknowledgement, it is these people that we are recognizing,” she said.

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