Blackwater Draw site hosts archaeology students

By Christina Calloway
PNT senior writer
ccalloway@pntonline.com

The sun beat down on Emily Jones as she crouched down to dust off the area she just excavated.

Christina Calloway: Portales News-Tribune Meng Zhang, a Chinese archaeological student studying at University of New Mexico, water screens soil to find any fragments that weren’t discovered during excavation.

Christina Calloway: Portales News-Tribune
Meng Zhang, a Chinese archaeological student studying at University of New Mexico, water screens soil to find any fragments that weren’t discovered during excavation.

It was almost quitting time for a snack, but Jones didn’t let the searing 90-degree heat bother her Wednesday because she was still feeding off the energy she got from uncovering her first bison bone that dated back to 9,000 years ago.

“This is what I’ve been waiting for,” said Jones, an archaeology student from Wichita State University in Kansas. “I found part of a toe and part of an ankle.”

For Jones and other archaeology students in Eastern New Mexico University’s summer field school, getting dirty at Blackwater Draw Site is seen as a privilege.

The five-week school lets students work at the historic site, which according to the Blackwater Draw website, was occupied by pioneering groups of hunter-gatherers about 13,500 years ago. The site was also frequented by herds of mammoth and bison.

Christina Calloway: Portales News-Tribune Archaeological students Lisa Sparks, left, and Patrick Snyder excavate in the indoor area of the Blackwater Draw Site, which contained mammoth and bison bones more than 8,500 years old.

Christina Calloway: Portales News-Tribune
Archaeological students Lisa Sparks, left, and Patrick Snyder excavate in the indoor area of the Blackwater Draw Site, which contained mammoth and bison bones more than 8,500 years old.

The site, identified by Ridgely Whiteman of Clovis in 1929, now operates as a research arm of ENMU, attracting visitors from all over the world because it’s widely recognized among scholars as one of the most significant archaeological sites in North America.

Jones said ENMU’s field school was her first choice for her studies, but the selection process is competitive.

“Blackwater Draw is such a huge archaeological site,” Jones said. “You can’t pass it up. This is the first time I’ve been in an excavation site that has bones this old. Most of the time bones that old do not preserve well.”

Tynan Pringle of Canada said his experience at the site has far exceeded his expectations.

“It’s been really amazing so far. It’s a big thing to be able to dig at this site,” Pringle said. “I’ve made a lot of friendships I think I’ll keep a lifetime.”

Pringle said prior to visiting the site, he’s only seen photos of Blackwater Draw on the Internet.

Pringle said it’s much more than he can take in up close as he worked on an excavated wall that shows visible changes in soil. The soil he was excavating was 8,500 to 10,500 years old.

“I expected bones but I never expected to find a tibia so long,” Pringle said. “We don’t have anything like this in Ontario. It’s like wow, I keep saying to myself, ‘I can’t believe I’m finding bison bones.’”

Meng Zhang, a native of China and a student at University of New Mexico, was also in disbelief that he was working at Blackwater Draw.

“I think this is a very good experience,” Zhang said. “This will be related to my dissertation. Blackwater Draw is very important.”

Zhang said he was excited to do hands-on work and found joy in water screening, a process of watering soil to expose any left over fragments that weren’t uncovered while excavating.

“This is the last step of the research, from this, we can know lots of information,” Zhang said. “If we don’t do this work, this would be very terrible because we could destroy (fragments).”

Speak Your Mind

*