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Earthwatch volunteers found a shell pendant and turquoise bead.


This was our last full day of excavating, and we made some important discoveries. In Feature 3, where I have been working with five other Earthwatch volunteers, we found a wooden post and a large quantity of charcoal. It may be possible to get a radiocarbon date or a tree-ring date from these finds that would provide a good estimate of the age of the site.

In Feature 4, four Earthwatch volunteers finally reached the floor of a room they were excavating after digging down more than 100 centimeters. They were rewarded with all kinds of wonderful artifacts: pottery shards, arrowheads, and even tiny beads made from shell and turquoise. They also found a mother-of-pearl pendant in the shape of an animal.

I asked Karl where these things would have come from, since there are no shells in the New Mexico desert. I learned that olivella and glycemeris are shells that came into New Mexico from the west coast of Mexico, across Baja California and Arizona. At Casas Grandes, across the border in Mexico, storehouses were found containing tons of raw shell that would have been used in trade. Glycermeris was usually made into bracelets that were all one piece. Olivella was shaped into beads or pendants, like the one found here at the Montoya site.

The prehistoric people traded many things. We know that turquoise from New Mexico has been found down in Mexico. Shell came from the south. Macaws (parrots) also were brought north into the Southwest. Pueblo Indians prized the Macaws for their feathers. We know that ceramics (pottery) were also traded because we find patterns and styles far from the places where they were made.

But we don't know the whole story. Archaeologists are left with only the artifacts that don't rot away. So we have questions — and here's a good one. Was pottery traded for the pots themselves, or for what was inside them?

Credits: Courtesy of Shayne Russell