Blackwater Draw site host to open house

George Crawford says he expects "children" ages 8 to 80 lining up for atlatl (spear) throwing this weekend at Blackwater Draw just six miles north of Portales.

Sure the fun stuff will attract people to Saturday's Prehistoric New Mexico Open House, but Crawford, Eastern New Mexico University's Blackwater Draw Site director and archaeologist, said the open house is held to bring awareness to New Mexico's contribution to the nation's prehistory.

ENMU: Courtesy photo

Community members gather at the Blackwater Draw site in 2011 for an atlatl throwing competition. Atlatl throwing will be one of the activities featured at Saturday's open house.

"To bring archaeology to the public is the biggest goal because we're part of the biggest Historic Preservation Month," Crawford said. "It kind of gets ignored way out here but we kind of have to represent for this whole side of the state."

According to the Blackwater Draw website, toward the end of the last ice age about 13,500 years ago, pioneering groups of hunter-gatherers encountered an oasis at Blackwater Draw. The spring-fed pond was frequented by herds of mammoth and bison.

The site, which is owned as a research arm of ENMU, was identified by Ridgely Whiteman of Clovis in 1929, according to the website.

Beginning in 1932, archaeologists discovered the group's tools along with a number of mammoth skeletons, making the site arguably the oldest archaeological culture identified in the new world. The historic landmark is widely recognized among scholars as one of the most significant archaeological sites in North America.

"The idea is to bring the prehistory of New Mexico to the forefront," Crawford said. "Lots of people are every interested in it, but they don't know where to get the information."

Saturday's event will feature a range of prehistoric activities to convey the techniques of prehistoric times.

In addition to atlatl throwing, activities include flintknapping, cooking, fiber working, sandal making and cordage making. Crawford said archaeologists and historians from the state museum will also be available to talk to people.

"We have a fiber artist that makes traditional textiles and shows how people utilize fiber," Crawford said. "We have another person who does more weaving with that kind of thing. It's about containers in prehistory."

He added it will also provide an opportunity for ENMU students studying archaeology and anthropology to interact with the community and get hands-on experience in the field.

Crawford said he's met archaeologists who have traveled from Britain, Japan and France to visit the site, so he hopes people here locally will take advantage of their hometown treasure.

Tommy Heflin of Portales says he'll be at the Blackwater Draw doing what he loves, and that's teaching people about flint knapping.

Heflin, who has taught flintknapping to hundreds over the years out of his home, will bring all the tools people need. All he needs is for people to bring a desire to learn.

"I have different kind of stones, different kinds of flint, different varieties of obsidian," Heflin said. "We just like to show kids cool stuff and teaching them."


  • What: Prehistoric New Mexico Open House
  • When: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday
  • Where: Blackwater Draw Site on N.M. 467
  • Information: George Crawford at 562-2910

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