San Juan College Archaeological Field School


Excavating for 20 years on Tommy Bolack’s B-Square Ranch in Farmington, Linda Wheelbarger and her students have found multiple Puebloan sites, including a great kiva. By Donna Hewett. Sponsored by Farmington Play Day Trampoline Park and Traegers

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After two decades of unearthing nearly 300,000 Puebloan artifacts and excavating multiple sites dating as far back as AD 1850, Linda Wheelbarger continues to lead San Juan College's Summer Archeological Field School at B-Square Ranch in Farmington. You're watching the local news network brought to you by Farmington Play Day - Trampoline Park and Traegers. I'm Wendy Graham Settle, Also known as the Totah Archeological Project, the site draws students from all over the country and gives them the opportunity to explore one of the epicenters of Ancient Puebloan society.

The Field school is all about training young people and older people, whoever wants to do it to become archeologists. And there is a call for archeologists because of that National Historic Preservation Act. Because when projects are on federal land or have federal funding and archeological survey, and potentially an excavation does need to take place. So there is work for archeologists across the United States. We do seem to have a little bit more here because of the concentration of the oil and gas and the Bureau of Land Management and Forest and Navajo Reservation counts as that type of land also.

Field school begins with a caravan tour of the 12,000 acre ranch. It takes some heavy hiking among the rugged canyons and mesas to arrive upon the many Puebloan art panels. Pushing a colleague's car out of a sand wash is a team effort and just one more adventure for the group of students, thrilled to be in the vast New Mexico Badlands.

It's exciting. I've never been to New Mexico before or the four corners in general. So this has been really cool. I am currently working on a degree in Ancient Studies, and so I'm really looking forward to studying a lot of different ancient cultures, hopefully through archeology and the older, the cooler it is. I just really love learning about ancient cultures and ancient civilizations.

Wheelbarger guides the group to a Navajo Sweat Lodge built of Juniper in the mid 1800s

You see these red rocks, so you have a fire, you're outside, you heat your rocks up, then you've usually made some sort of a little depression in there. Sometimes they line it with the bark from the Juniper, and then they lay those hot rocks on top of that. And you can just sweat from the heat, which is like a sauna, or you can add a little water to it so it's a little steamier in there.

The project area where the dig takes place, Point Pueblo is a large Chacoan Great House Community located at the base of the gorgeous Shannon Bluffs and adjacent to the San Juan river. After 22 years of periodic excavation, the Great Kiva on Point Pueblo is still revealing itself.

And going down floor four, we noticed some discrepancies. I dug a test trench over here and found out that there was another structure underneath, and it's not really two Kivas, it's the same key that was just enlarged at sometime in the prehistoric past. In fact, if you measure the bench here to the wall, you get 70 centimeters. And if you measure the edge of the bench there to that wall you get 70 centimeters. So they kept that up. And I did a test trench over on that side and came up with the same thing.

A portion of Wheelbarger's crew, dig on the Great House portion of the ruin located on the scenic Northern edge of the site, overlooking Farmington.

These are very large rooms that are running 20 to 20 feet long by about five to eight feet wide. And we have about 10 to 12 of them. Some of them may be partitioned because we don't really know for sure. We would only know that if we excavated the entire room, which I'm not really doing. We're just doing partial rooms enough to get the stratigraphy. But we have discovered that they are multistorey. They are at least two story high. This is room 30, which I did have evidence of a burned roof. So that was the roof of the lower room. And it was the floor of the upper floor. And we did find a lot of carbonized materials, textiles, such as basketry, sandals, a Turkey feather blanket, a Yucca brush, all of it was for black, carbonized. And that's why it was preserved. If it had just been not burned, it probably wouldn't have preserved, it would have just disappeared. So they would have had this beautiful view to the north here. We don't know exactly how many rooms, because there was a lower road constructed through here. And a lot of the Northeastern part of the great house has just fallen down towards into the river there.

On the west side of Point Pueblo, two students come across the largest relic of their fledgling careers as archeologists.

So this is a hafted maul. It's a large stone implement that has been shaped right here on the edges where you can see these grooves, this is where they would have hafted this tool. And then these blunt ends would have been used to hack it, brush or trees, kind of similar to an axe.

Notice the shape of it is kind of curved too



We found that,

When we began our second level.

On Monday.

Yeah. So it was sticking out when we got to the bottom of our first level and we took a photograph because we had a lot of wall fall and lots of rocks everywhere, but this one in particular turned out to be quite a large artifact,

Yeah. Biggest artifact I've ever found

Same, I believe.


Same. Yeah.

The excavation lasts four weeks, Wheelbargers, students and volunteers, 26 in all, will savor every second as field schools themselves are a rarity.

There's very few chances nowadays in the United States to do this sort of excavation work. And what Linda does is really special. They're probably, the best of my knowledge maybe five or six other field schools that really made the summer in this time of COVID and in regular year, it might only be 15 or 20 across the United States. So this is still a very unique experience.

B square ranch is a combination working cattle ranch, waterfowl conservation area, and museum facility. It was the brainchild of late oilman, philanthropist, rancher and politician, Tom Bolack. His son, Tommy Bolack, established the Totah Archeological Project in 1999 after a lifetime of discovering the many ruins and sites on the property.

And then college got interested in it because this is an excellent thing that there's none of it going on right here in the Farmington area to be able to train young archeologists. I said, "I've got a beautiful place out here to do it with all these sites." And after they come and took a look at it, we agree. You've got some fantastic sites and I'd unearth the couple of those really deep ones that had never been disturbed before. So we had a lot of virgin material that had not been sifted through and full of aqua beer bottles and stuff like that. And even where they are right now on the point site. That was probably the most potted site, years and years. I didn't get it until the early 60s, but old bottles and stuff in there clear back to the early 1900s, because it was such a superficial site. So it was potted pretty heavy to about like five foot deep. And they're getting into things over there now below that level that are pretty well pristine and undisturbed. That's where you really start getting a lot of your scientific information, its when you can get everything in context and you know where it is, what level it is, and be able to associate a lot of these goods and these things that you do find and provide evidence to some to where they were located and what level they came from.

Bolack was just a boy when he stumbled upon his first Puebloan black on white bowl in an onion field near his house in 1959.

This piece was gone. And it had actually been tipped up and used, and it broke out, it still ended up using it like this. That piece was gone. They didn't try to drill it and stitch it. What pretty thing.

People interested in attending the field school as a volunteer can pay to audit the course and attend any part of the session.

This is one of the best bargains in terms of the fees structure here, you can come here for about 30 or 40 percent of what it costs to take one of the field schools with one of the larger academic institutions. So San Juan College is really doing a service for a lot of people, particularly undergraduates.

Contact Linda Wheelbarger at for additional information. Thanks for watching this edition of the Local News Network. I'm Wendy Graham Settle.


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