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A University of Nebraska-Lincoln archaeologist is part of a team of researchers who received a $300,000 grant from the National Endowment of the Humanities Monday to digitize archaeological records from the American Southwest.

Carrie Heitman, an assistant professor of archaeology at UNL, will lead the digitization of the Salmon Pueblo Archeological Research Collection that tells the story of the indigenous Chacoan culture through its architecture, tools and other artifacts.

About 1,000 years ago, a Pueblo Indian society was spreading across the southwest centered at Chaco Canyon near Albuquerque, New Mexico, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Alongside the Chaco Canyon development, about 200 satellite communities of varying sizes and structures were also being settled between the eighth and 13th centuries, occupying an area approximately the size of Ireland, Heitman said.

The outlying Chacoan communities were connected through a vast and complicated infrastructure system connecting the satellite pueblos thematically -- and in some cases literally -- to Chaco Canyon’s culture and architecture while also allowing each satellite center to develop independently.

One of the greatest examples is Salmon Pueblo, a three-story great house of nearly 300 rooms that was occupied until the 1280s, when it was abandoned by the Chacoan people, probably because of a long-term drought.

“It’s been a place that’s long fascinated the public and scholars who are trying to understand how and why people first aggregated in a seemingly desolate part of the arid southwest and built these massive structures,” she said.

Examining the artifacts will also help researchers determine how these communities formed and how religious and political authority was organized, the project proposal states.

The Salmon Pueblo Archeological Research Collection, which has preserved 1.5 million artifacts collected at the site, has “tomes of data” on the archeological dig.

Digitizing the records from the excavation completed 40 years ago will put original photographs and field notes of the dig sites online in addition to maps showing where artifacts, burial sites and religious offerings were discovered.

Heitman said the region’s dry climate also preserved fabrics and textiles from the site. Dating ceramics and tools found at Salmon and studying at what depth artifacts were recovered from the site will provide researchers an idea of how the population may have changed during the 500 years Salmon was occupied.

UNL’s Center for Digital Research in the Humanities will lead the effort to digitize, integrate and preserve access to the material through an online database.

The Salmon Ruins Museum, project co-director Paul Reed of Archeology Southwest and the Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities at the University of Virginia are also partners on the project, which will begin in May and continue through October 2017.

Heitman said the total cost of the project is nearly $346,000.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7120 or cdunker@journalstar.com. On Twitter @ChrisDunkerLJS.

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Higher education reporter

Chris Dunker covers higher education, state government and the intersection of both.

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