The Archaeology Field School at SMU-in-Taos begins a unique education and research partnership this summer with students and faculty from Mercyhurst College in Erie, Pa., uniting two of the nation’s leading archaeology programs on Southern Methodist University’s New Mexico campus.
“This collaboration will create one of the strongest archaeology field training programs in the nation, if not the world,” said Mike Adler, SMU-in-Taos executive director. “It leverages the strengths of both institutions.”
The goal of the Taos Collaborative Archaeology Program (TCAP) is to unite the strengths of SMU’s community-based archaeology and Mercyhurst’s excavation, documentation and analytical protocols to offer students an unparalleled archaeological training experience.
The SMU-in-Taos campus is sited on an archaeological treasure trove in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains within the Carson National Forest. Program participants have ready access to the restored Fort Burgwin, a pre-Civil War U.S. Cavalry cantonment, and the 13th-century Pot Creek Pueblo. The campus is located on New Mexico Highway 518 between Ranchos de Taos and Penasco. Open archaeological excavations on the SMU-in-Taos campus include the Laundresses Quarters.
The first TCAP session was June 1 through July 15, and joined 12 students from SMU with 16 from Mercyhurst. SMU’s TCAP director is Sunday Eiselt, assistant professor of anthropology, and Mercyhurst field directors are Judith Thomas, a historic archeologist, and Joseph Yedlowski, a prehistoric archeologist.
SMU is now in its fourth decade of offering field archaeology at the Taos campus, and Adler estimates more than 1,000 undergraduate and graduate students have trained there.
“We have a lot to learn from each other,” Thomas said. “SMU is very strong in community-based archaeology and they have a top facility at which to study. We provide an intense, hands-on field archaeology experience using state-of-the art technology.”
The Mercyhurst group is supplying a new remote sensing device known as a gladiometer that works in tandem with computer software to detect features and structures buried at shallow depths, to generate subsurface maps and to better target excavation efforts.
The students will excavate at the Ranchos de Taos Plaza in the shadow of the historic San Francisco de Asis church, and in the homes and backyards of Ranchos de Taos residents whose willingness to work with SMU is a hallmark of the program. Students will also take part in the annual mudding of the church and will record rock art near the spectacular Rio Grande Gorge.
SMU-in-Taos has offered summer education programs tailored to the region’s unique resources since 1973, but the rustic campus dormitories were impractical for use during colder weather. New construction, recent renovations to housing and technological improvements provided through a $4 million lead gift from former Texas Gov. William P. Clements and his wife, Rita, will allow SMU students to take a full semester of classes for the first time this fall.
Other donors have given more than $1 million to support the student housing. They include Dallas residents Roy and Janis Coffee, Maurine Dickey, Richard T. and Jenny Mullen, Caren H. Prothro and Steve and Marcy Sands; Bill Armstrong and Liz Martin Armstrong of Denver; Irene Athos and the late William J. Athos of St. Petersburg, Fla.; Jo Ann Geurin Thetford of Graham, Texas; and Richard Ware and William J. Ware of Amarillo, Texas. — Kim Cobb (Mercyhurst College contributed to this report)