Archeologists study ancient villages on WSMR
March 1, 2013
White Sands Missile Range, N.M., Feb. 28, 2013 - Archeologists are unearthing the past and clearing the way for military testing and training on White Sand Missile Range.
Near the Yucca Village testing and training facility near Orogrande on WSMR's eastern border archeologists are uncovering ancient villages and learning more about the people who once occupied the land that today makes up WSMR and Fort Bliss. Archeologist are excavating eight sites out near the small artificial village used to represent a remote village or similar urban environment. The sites vary in size from only a few hundred feet across to the larger sites that cover an area the size of more than 20 football fields. The excavations are part of a mitigation effort to clear the area for use in future test and training missions. Clearing the site for testing and train means conducting a study to mitigate the site; with archeologists gathering important artifacts, documenting the sites in detail, and learning everything there is to learn from the site. Once this is complete the site can be used for military operations. In the case of the site near Yucca Village this means allowing test missions like those in the Network Integration Evaluation to use the area for their test.
The sites feature several small pit house villages that archeologist believe to be about 1100 to 1500 years old and were occupied by people known as the Jornada Mogollon. Pit houses are small houses made by digging out a small pit in the ground and then constructing small walls and a roof over it. "So far we have excivated nine of these structure, they are fairly femoral made, and they are not that easy to find because often time they are filled with sand," said Alex Kurota, UNM. Kurota said that the size of the houses vary with some being large enough for several people, and other large enough for only one person. Kurota said that right now they think some of the small, more shallowly dig houses were used over shorter periods of time then the larger and deeper dug houses. "if they stayed in this area for longer, say two or three months, the structures might be more substantially built, while those that would have been used maybe just for a few days or a week would have been a lot smaller," Kurota said.
One of the more interesting features the archeologists have found have been smaller oddly shaped pit houses. While pit houses are usually of a rough circular shape, these smaller houses, identified by a cluster of holes where posts would have been fitted seem to form a more triangular shape. While they are still studying the site, Kurota said some of the going theories include the small building were for some kind of storage or perhaps a windbreak to protect the main pit house during the windy season the region is so well known for.
Another point of interest was a site that contained a large quantity of crushed and cooked rabbit bones. "We can tell that the people were hunting rabbits and roasting them or cooking them up in these thermal fire pits," Kurota said. Rabbits were a known food of the Jornada Mogollon people, and as a lean meat the bones of rabbits were often broken and cooked with the rest of the meat to release the nutrient rich marrow and form a kind of basic rabbit stew. What's surprising about the find on WSMR is the quantity of the rabbit bones found. At one of the sites being excavated they've found the bones of over 500 rabbits, the largest number of rabbit bones ever found in the region.
In addition to the Mogollon sites one site in the area turned out to be around 2000 years old yielding materials that suggest the site predated the creation of the pottery that many of the later sites are well known for. This site yielded some interesting finds as well as the layout of the fire pits showed that the people occupying the site operated two fire pits at a time. The excavation showed that the people living at the site would cook in one fire pit, and then move the ash into a second pit when they were finished cooking. "This is a kind of system that these archaic people were using and is something really new that we did not know before," Kurota said.