Office for University Outreach

Outreach and Engagement Highlights

CU Boulder archaeology program connects the past and present

CU Boulder archaeology program connects the past and present CU Boulder archaeology students Samantha Linford, Kaitlyn Davis and Patrick Cruz at an ancestral site in northern New Mexico
July 20, 2016

For Patrick Cruz, studying archaeological sites in southern Colorado and northern New Mexico this summer was a way to hone his skills.

But the trip also allowed Cruz, a University of Colorado Boulder archaeology graduate student, to retrace the journey his Tewa ancestors made centuries ago.

“My interest in the subject matter is very personal,” said Cruz. “I am interested in how Tewa peoples arrived, how they adapted to their new landscape, what social changes took place, what material and social traits survived the migrations from Colorado to New Mexico and what didn't.”

Cruz was one of 13 undergraduate and graduate students who participated in CU Boulder’s archaeological field school in June, led by CU Boulder anthropology assistant professor Scott Ortman. Students began the month-long program excavating an ancient pueblo site in the Ute Mountain Ute reservation in Colorado and then traveled to the Pueblo of Pojoaque in New Mexico, where they worked alongside tribal members of all ages identifying pottery, mapping sites, collecting data and learning about native traditions and history.

Ortman, who was an archaeologist in the southwest for 20 years before coming to CU Boulder, said the summer program helps students recognize that artifacts and people are both fundamental to archaeological research.

“Native elders walk by the old stones, rub them and take in their breath. Seeing the emotional reaction and response to these places transforms the archaeological record from something of the past that’s dead to something that is personal, living and of the present,” he said.

Ortman’s approach resonates with graduate student Samantha Linford, who said the field school allowed her to build personal relationships with tribal members and discover the pueblo’s research questions.

“I want to be a part of the growth of North American archaeology as a collaborative effort where students learn not only the "practical" application of archaeology, but also the native perspective and oral tradition as well,” Linford said.

The Tewa people migrated from Mesa Verde in Colorado to New Mexico in the 13th century, only to be further dispersed during European colonization. Over time, some traditions were lost. As tribal members return to villages like Pojoaque, the communities are rebuilding their traditions, knowledge and language, a process called “regathering.”

The village wanted to partner with an archaeologist as they rediscover their history, and chose Ortman because of his reputation for collaborating with native communities, said Bruce Bernstein, the pueblo’s tribal historic preservation officer.

As a result, the field school included a culture camp this year, where high schoolers from Pojoaque worked with community members and CU Boulder students at the sites. The Office for Outreach and Engagement partially funded the camp, which allowed teens to learn about their traditions and the field of archaeology.

Bernstein said the camp was part of a larger program to reconnect the community with its history, and was highly rewarding for the high schoolers and the CU Boulder students.

“The program is bringing change. One can witness its potential to alter how archaeology, ethnology and history is done in the southwest and how it is melded with a community's own interests,” he said.

For Cruz, who grew up in Ohkay Owingeh, a Tewa pueblo north of Santa Fe, helping youth connect to their past is important.

“I want pueblo youth to have the experience of visiting the old sites, especially with elders. I want them to walk those lands and to connect with those places. I think it is so important for children to know where their ancestors have been in order to know who they are today,” Cruz said.

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