Monthly Meeting

November 2019

HARD TIMES AND MOBILITY IN THIRTEENTH-CENTURY SE UTAH: THE EARTH SHOOK & SPIT FIRE (ELSEWHERE), AND IT GREW DARK & COLD

Thomas C. Windes

7:30 PM, Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Albuquerque Museum of Art and History

2000 Mountain Road NW

Since 2001, a volunteer crew of “wood rats” has worked on Cedar Mesa and Beef Basin in southeast Utah and beyond for the Bureau of Land Management, US Forest Service, National Park Service, and the State of Utah documenting intact or partially intact sites with structural wood resources capable of yielding tree-ring dates.  This work helps refine the late Pueblo III settlement and abandonment of the western region of the northern San Juan in southeast Utah in the AD 1100s and 1200s.  The vast majority of sites are cliff ruins, where architectural preservation is often very good. These critical cultural resources are being documented in detail also to help establish baseline data for the various federal caretaker land agencies.  However, the effects of natural deterioration to the wood and sites from weathering, insects, animals, and fires, as well as increased visitor impacts, looting, and any negative impacts from potential future mineral extraction of the area provides urgency to collect this baseline data and to take a detailed look at these sites.

The team has documented over 50 sites during this work, collected over 1000 tree-ring samples, and noted some unusual patterns to the AD 1200s occupation, the most common site period there. Notably, many cliff sites are nearly devoid of artifacts but cliff-top dune sites are loaded with them, suggesting seasonal shifts. There are also several cliff sites where the architecture and artifacts have been deliberately removed, leaving little more than sparse “ghost” adobe marks against the cliff walls from the former attached structures. Finally, our most defensive and latest sites are dating at about AD 1257-1260, a period that coincides with a massive series of volcanic eruptions that changed the world’s climate and may have caused the final depopulation of the Four Corners region.  A similar but lesser eruption in 1815 at Tambora, Indonesia, is much better documented and provides a better understanding of the disastrous climatic changes and related events that make these eruptions so disruptive to human populations.

Tom Windes grew up in Silver Spring, Maryland, and received his anthropology degrees from the University of North Carolina (BA 1965) and the University of New Mexico (MA 1967) before being drafted in 1967. He spent his early years working on two huge Pueblo IV sites (Sapawe and Tsama 1969–1970) in the Chama River Valley with the UNM Field Schools.  After a year with the US Forest Service in southeast Utah (1970–1971), he joined the Chaco Project in its beginning field year of 1972. He has worked on Chaco-related archaeological projects ever since, doing site inventory surveys, excavations, and publishing over 100 articles and monographs of his work in various journals as well as National Park Service monographs. His most extensive works include excavation reports of Pueblo Alto, the Pueblo II Spadefoot Toad Site, and the Basketmaker III–Pueblo I sites in Chaco Canyon, covering occupations between the AD 500s and 1100s.

He continues to do inventory and sampling of architectural wood in prehistoric and historic buildings in the general Four Corners region. For the past 19 years, Tom has also worked in southeast Utah documenting, mapping, recording, and taking tree-ring samples from intact or nearly intact cliff ruins in Natural Bridges and the new Bears Ears (Cedar Mesa/Beef Basin) National Monuments. Tom’s interests include ceramic analyses, ground stone, Chacoan architecture and greathouse communities, architectural wood, dating techniques (i.e., tree-ring, radiocarbon, and archaeomagnetic dating), the Chacoan shrine communications system, ant studies, and turquoise craft activities.

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The Albuquerque Archaeological Society is an avocational group that advocates preserving archaeological and other cultural resources by informing members and the public about archaeological and ethnological subjects through our meetings, presentations, newsletter, other electronic media, field trips, volunteer efforts, field surveys, and studies. Membership is only $25 for an individual or family, and it’s free to students with a Student ID or current class schedule. Membership puts you on our mailing list for our monthly newsletter, and gives you access to our field trips, volunteering endeavors, and our seminars. However, our meetings are always free and open to the public, with a guest lecturer and refreshments, great conversation, and the chance to socialize with those who share an interest in archaeology, both professionals and avocational members. Come see what we’re all about! We’d love your company!

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