By Karl Terry: PNT Managing Editor
Hollywood archaeologist Indiana Jones never visited eastern New Mexico in his movies, but if he had arrived on the scene at Blackwater Draw in the 1960s, he would have sought out the members of the El Llano Archaeology Society.
Archaeology students at Eastern New Mexico University and a few local folks with a yen to learn more about the science are bringing back an archaeology society to the area since El Llano disappeared like an artifact into the prairie sands some 20 years ago.
“The Clovis/Portales area is so rich in archaeology areas we felt like it was important,” said Ziggy Prothro, a graduate student in archaeology who is spearheading the effort to re-establish a society.
She said an archaeological society would be a nice complement to ENMU’s Blackwater Draw Museum and the famous Blackwater Draw Site, where evidence of Clovis Man, the earliest known culture in North America, was discovered and accurately dated to between 13,000 and 13,300 years ago.
Prothro explained that besides El Llano there were once lots of active societies in the Southwest, but now the numbers are down to just a few.
Don Clifton, an archaeologist from Pep, agrees that the area could use a society.
“With the approximation of so many areas, there is so much interest in it (archaeology),” Clifton said. “It (the interest) needs to be developed in the public.”
The organization hosts speakers at its monthly meetings, held every third Thursday, and plans to give members the opportunity to help at the site, museum and in local classrooms, and possibly even be involved in field work.
Prothro said field trips to places such as Alibates Flint Quarry near Amarillo, area rock art sites and the Blackwater Draw Site would also be a goal of the group.
“It’s not about archaeology,” Prothro said. “It’s about journalists, housewives and regular people learning more about ancient cultures.”
Prothro’s husband, George Prothro, said it would be an aim of the society to provide amateurs ethical training.
“We don’t want to teach them to be pot hunters,” he said.
“We don’t dig dinosaur bones,” clarified George Prothro. “We’re all too lazy to take that many math classes,” he quipped, referring to the paleontology field that often is confused with archaeology, which is the study of historic or prehistoric people through their artifacts.
Tommy Heflin of Portales, who attended the group’s first meeting in October, said he’s had no training in archaeology but wants to get involved because he has a unique interest in the study.
“My main interest was in the artifacts and how Indians could make something so beautiful.”
Heflin has been an amateur flintknapper for 30 years. Flintknapping is the art of manufacturing stone points or arrowheads as ancient people did.
James Warnica was El Llano’s first president after it was formed in the summer of 1962. He had some archaeology field training, but is not a professional archaeologist. He recalls how the organization quickly found itself in a once-in-a-lifetime situation.
Artifacts at the Blackwater Draw Site, between Clovis and Portales, were discovered in 1929 when gravel operations started there and evidence of Clovis Man was discovered. In December 1962, a major find was made at the pit, then operated by contractor Sam Sanders. Society members were pressed into action a few months after the group formed by F.E. Green, the Texas Tech professor who made the discovery.
According to Warnica, the group consisted of himself, Gordon Brown, Joe Blair, Eula Edwards, Siegel Wallace and others. For two years members snatched every spare moment to help with the dig between jobs and other lives, Warnica said. The work on that find, which he said lasted from December 1962 to February 1964, uncovered four Columbian mammoth. More importantly, it placed Clovis artifacts in association with the mammoth kill, clarifying the dates and reasons for the artifacts found in the area.
“It was one of those things where you were in the right place at the right time,” Warnica said. “It was overpowering because nearly everybody was working. You were trying to do stuff out there and hold down a job, too,” said the rancher, who was a linotype operator and shop foreman at the PNT at the time.
Warnica said the atmosphere surrounding the find was politically charged, and he and the group knew they might not have long to work the site.
“Mr. Sanders was really good to work around though,” Warnica said. “He was even willing to move dirt with machinery when we needed it.”
Warnica says El Llano also had meetings and did all the stuff that Prothro is planning, but the work at the site provided a bond for the group he feels may be hard to replace.
“I think it’s a great thing to preserve historic and prehistoric sites,” Warnica said of Blackwater Draw Site’s National Historic Site designation and new society’s goals.
“It’s the public that pays for archaeology,” said George Prothro. “But the public doesn’t understand it.”