The Gorge Project is committed to undertaking research that serves the interests not just of the scientific community but also the public at large—particularly descendant communities who continue to have strong spiritual, emotional, and intellectual ties to the material remains of their ancestors. In some cases, this entails not undertaking research, or at least restricting the sorts of studies we might otherwise be interested in performing. Indeed, this is a central reason we have come to focus the majority of our research energies on non-destructive and non-collection landscape surveys that leave archaeological sites just as we found them. Many Native American friends, colleagues, and tribal representatives have expressed a basic desire for ancestral sites to be left undisturbed (and, especially, unexcavated), and we honor these wishes. Other communities have been enthusiastic about the study of their past through careful excavation, analysis, and curation of ancestral remains as well as through oral histories. This has been the case, for instance, in our work on the Hispano and Anglo histories of the Plaza del Embudo and the New Buffalo Commune. Regardless of the methods we employ (or do not employ), we understand our project as having a basic obligation to descendent communities that involves (1) gathering and conveying scientific information that may be of relevance and use to them and (2) respecting the limits they may feel compelled to place on our work.
Below are three examples of the community collaborations developed by Gorge Project members…
The Comanche Nation
In 2008, our surveys in the Rio Grande Gorge stumbled upon a large distribution of scratched and abraded rock art depicting a variety of scenes from a Plains equestrian society: tipi encampments, warriors, horse raids, bison hunts, parfleches and more (click here for further information). As we began to research this imagery, it became apparent that most were likely produced by the Comanche, well known for their regular campaigns in the Taos region during the eighteenth century. This prompted us to contact Jimmy Arterberry, the Tribal Historic Preservation Officer for the Comanche Nation, who immediately recognized the rock art as an important component of Comanche heritage with the potential to fill in a key chapter of the early Comanche history of New Mexico. Over the course of a number of site visits and meetings, Jimmy and the Gorge Project team members refined our collective interpretation of the imagery and began co-authoring conference papers as well as articles for journals and edited volumes (click here for a list of our publications).
Other Comanche tribal members began to learn of the research and visited the project to tour and offer their thoughts on the rock art. This culminated in 2014, when the Gorge Project hosted a large gathering of the the Comanche Council of Elders in Taos to discuss our discoveries, visit sites, and build a network of relationships to help guide our study of this material going forward. In addition to Comanche elders and project team members, a number of archaeologists and historians specializing in the 18th century history of the Southwest participated in the event, permitting the elders to initiate dialogues with a range of scholars and government representatives involved in the interpretation and management of the tribe’s cultural heritage in New Mexico.
We are honored to count the Comanche nation as friends and collaborators in our research.
Above: The elders are introduced to a large panel at the Vista Verde site where their ancestors scratched dozens of parfleche designs, plausibly to signify their participation in a gathering within the Rio Grand Gorge. Below: Standing at the edge of the faint remains of a large tipi encampment, a small group of the Comanche elders examine a rock art panel commemorating a battle between Comanche and Pueblo forces.
The New Buffalo Community
In the image to the right, Kaet Heupel listens to Rick Klein describe the philosophy that underwrote the establishment of New Buffalo in 1967. Located on the outskirts of the small village of Arroyo Hondo, just north of Taos, New Buffalo was an agricultural and spiritual commune that helped define the ‘hippie’ era in New Mexico—an era that very much continues into the present. As the architects of the 60s countercultural movement become elders in their own right, new questions arise regarding sites like New Buffalo that are the material remnants of the hippie revolution. From 2008-2010, the Gorge Project based its summer field seasons out of New Buffalo, now run by owner Bob Fies as an intentional community. Team members lived as part of the community, helped with the gardens, and shared meals with current and past residents at New Buffalo. They also excavated a number of ruins produced during the late 60s and early 70s in an effort to explore the what exactly life was like at the commune. In the years that followed, Kaet continued living at New Buffalo to assist the community and to undertake extensive oral histories, which served as a backbone for her recently completed PhD dissertation.
Our work at New Buffalo was collaborative from the start, born of conversations with Rick and Terry Klein as well as Robbie Gordon (an early member of the commune community) and Iris Keltz (another former member of the commune). All felt passionately that the radical social experiments of their youth are as needed today as they were in the 60s. And all were enthusiastic about the use of archaeology to prompt new conversations about the position of the 60s counterculture within American heritage more broadly. These collaborations eventually led to a conference session at the Theoretical Archaeology Group meetings in Berkeley where Gorge Project team members presented alongside communards from the late 60s and contemporary New Buffalo residents.
We are grateful for the hospitality of Bob Fies during our stays at New Buffalo, and we look forward to continuing our archaeological study of the 60s counterculture in northern New Mexico in partnership with all those hippies, past and present, who are trying to remake American society for the better.
Above: The well known photographer Lisa Law (center) visits with New Buffalo owner Bob Fies (far right) and Gorge Project members. Lisa is holding up one of the many stunning photographs she took of the commune during the late 60s, while standing in that very position. Below: Rick Klein stands with project members at the edge of a “hippie pit house” where Gorge Project excavations had just begun.
The Dixon Community
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