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The information unearthed by Earthwatch volunteers will help us learn more about the people who lived in Monticello Box Canyon.


Yesterday I asked Karl a question about how archaeologists generate the questions that their research tries to answer. He told me this story:

At one point in time, very little was known about the ancestors of New Mexico's Pueblo Indians. Then one day, a Utah archaeologist named Jesse Jennings proposed a hypothesis that a group of Indians who were hunter-gatherers living in Utah and Nevada moved into New Mexico. Jennings thought, over time, that these people became the ancestors to today's Pueblo Indians.

Archaeologists are a community, but they don't always agree with each other. A lot of archaeologists thought Jennings was wrong and set out to prove it. They immediately began excavating sites in New Mexico and Arizona looking for evidence that ancestors of the Pueblo people had been in New Mexico a long time and had not moved from Utah. Sure enough, they found what they were looking for — a series of sites in northern and western New Mexico and southern Arizona that demonstrated, conclusively, that the Pueblo ancestors had lived in New Mexico and Arizona since the end of the Pleistocene Age.

Jennings' hypothesis had been wrong, but because he had proposed it, archaeologists learned a lot about the period before pueblos were built. Jennings later wrote an article called "The Short Useful Life of a Simple Hypothesis." His article told how he had proposed something that was wrong which nevertheless resulted in important new knowledge as others set out to disprove his ideas. This is what research is all about! Most of our scientific knowledge in all subjects has resulted from the development and rejection of hypotheses. So a testable hypothesis will be useful whether or not it can be supported.

Credits: Courtesy of Shayne Russell