Canada Alamosa reveals 4000 years of agricultural history

Mar 26, 2013

A 13-year research project that unveils a fascinating look at ancient agriculture is the subject of a new exhibition at the New Mexico Farm & Ranch Heritage Museum in Las Cruces.

“The Cañada Alamosa Project: 4,000 Years of Agricultural History” opens in the Legacy Gallery with a reception from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. on April 4. A lecture, featuring Project Archaeologist Karl Laumbach, is scheduled for 7 p.m. on April 11 in the museum’s Theater.

In this extraordinary exhibition, visitors may explore artifacts, photographs, oral history, and interpretation of life and survival in the Cañada Alamosa, an isolated and beautiful New Mexico canyon that features pithouse and pueblo ruins, Apache camps and Euro-American homesteads.

“What is not universally understood is that archaeological data is also environmental data and that archaeology provides us with the longest available record of human interaction with a changing environment,” said Laumbach. “This is because the archaeology provides a temporal context for environmental conditions reflected in the charred plants, animal bones, soils, carbon isotopes, and pollen that can be bracketed in time by the presence of artifacts and living surfaces altered by human occupation.”

The research project took place in the Cañada Alamosa, an isolated canyon where the high desert dominates the landscape and the canyon bottom has been blessed with the year-round waters of a deep, warm water spring. Known locally as the Ojo Caliente or Warm Spring, it is a sacred and special place for Native Americans and Europeans alike.

It was not until the early 1990s that comprehensive documentation of the area began when the National Park Service sponsored a study by Human Systems Research, Inc. (HSR). Most of the sites are on private land and have survived looting and destruction because of difficult access and protective owners.

In 1998, Dr. Dennis and Trudy O’Toole purchased a small ranch containing a cluster of major sites in the canyon. Founding the Cañada Alamosa Institute, the O’Tooles joined forces with Human Systems Research, with Laumbach as Principal Investigator, to create the Cañada Alamosa Project and explore the last 2,000 years of human adaptation to the ever-changing environment of the region. The Cañada Alamosa Project conducted field research and analysis for over 13 years, ultimately discovering a 4,000-year record of agricultural activity. Partnerships include the New Mexico Farm & Ranch Heritage Museum, University of Colorado at Boulder, Eastern New Mexico University, Earthwatch Institute, and a cast of hundreds.

“Archaeological sites contribute to our understanding of the environment and its history,” said Laumbach. “It’s not just about pottery and arrowheads.
“The Cañada Alamosa Project is multi-disciplinary and has incorporated individuals trained in botany, palynology, zoology, and soil science,” he added. “Their studies have resulted in significant insights regarding the environmental history of the area.”
The exhibit will feature archaeological objects such as ceramic vessels, stone tools, bones, shell, and turquoise, along with photographs, videos, an oral history kiosk and interpretive text panels.

Admission to the reception on April 4 is free. The exhibit will be in the Legacy Gallery through March 16, 2014.

The museum is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday and from noon to 5 p.m. on Sunday. Admission is $5 for adults, $3 for senior citizens and $2 for children 5 to 17. Museum Friends members, military veterans and children 4 and under are admitted free.

For more information, please call (575) 522-4100.

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For information contact Craig Massey at craig.massey@state.nm.us.