Education Outreach

Handprint petroglyphs at La Bajada solstice site

OAS Outreach Wins Another SAA Award!

We are pleased to announce that under Chuck Hannaford's wise and enthusiastic leadership, the OAS Education Outreach Program has received the Society for American Archaeology's Award for Excellence in Public Education for 2012—the only institution to have won that honor twice. Since first winning the award in 2005, the program has continued to reach audiences in every county in the state despite funding cutbacks. Eric Blinman accepted the award at the 77th annual meeting of the SAA, in Memphis, Tennessee.

Click on the following links to see a description and list of our education programs, a list of program participation by county, maps of the outreach venues in recent years, the letter of application to the SAA, and the SAA award letter.2012 SAA Award

OAS education program description
OAS education programs 2009–2011
Program participation by county
OAS outreach venues FY 2010
OAS outreach venues FY 2011
OAS 2012 letter of application
SAA 2012 award letter

Discovering New Mexico Archaeology

Are you curious about the past? Then you might want to discover more about the fascinating field of archaeology. Archaeology is a discipline for exploring, studying, and learning about the past. Archaeology offers a unique perspective on human history based on the study of surviving material artifacts and remains. These material artifacts provide the bases for observations on what kind of tools different cultures once made, what kind of houses they lived in, what sort of food they ate, and how people lived in and interacted with New Mexico's diverse environment.

New Mexico has one of the oldest archaeological records of human habitation in the United States. This record extends our understanding of the past deep into the unwritten history of New Mexico, far beyond written records and documents. One can marvel at the artistry of a masterfully crafted Clovis spear point from this early time period. However, the real story of the past is learning about the context of the spear point and how the original discovery was made in association with mammoths and other now-extinct Ice Age animals. Suddenly, a huge time frame is opened up, extending human occupation of New Mexico back some 14,000 years into the past. The original Clovis and Folsom sites, demonstrating this deep antiquity of the human presence, were first discovered in New Mexico. Artifacts and their contexts go hand in hand in reconstructing culture histories and past lifeways.

Surviving artifacts provide fascinating windows into the past for viewing New Mexico's long time line and its varied technologies and cultural lifeways. They also provide valuable hands-on learning experiences. An atlatl, or spear-thrower, allowed hunters to propel spears at high velocities to kill large animals like mammoths. This long-lived implement was ultimately replaced by the bow and arrow in New Mexico, which in turn gave way to the gun as a hunting weapon. Stone-tipped arrow points were replaced by metal points at European contact.

New Mexico's dry climate allows the preservation of fragile, perishable artifacts that normally do not survive in other states. New Mexico designated the blossom of the yucca plant as the state flower in 1927, but the yucca was once used by past cultures of New Mexico for sandals, twine and cordage, shampoo, and brushes for painting pottery. Backpacks utilized tump-straps for the head rather than shoulder straps for carrying weight. Domesticated turkeys were prized for their feathers, rather than for food, to construct warm turkey-feather blankets.

Recorded history, characterized by the introduction of written documents, began in 1540 with Coronado's entrada into New Mexico. Historical archaeologists study both artifacts and written documents to reconstruct the culture histories of New Mexicans over more than 400 years. Metal was introduced as chain-mail armor and ox shoes. New Mexico has a unique historical heritage represented by Pueblo, Navajo, Apache, Spanish, and Anglo cultural interaction. Each cultural group had their own artifact styles, house types, and foods that were hunted, collected, herded, and grown. New Mexico's Native American cultures still live on their traditional homelands. They have oral traditions handing down spoken accounts of their origins and interactions. New Mexico's long time line and diverse cultures provide intriguing stories of human interaction with New Mexico's landscapes and mineral, animal, and plant resources. Let archaeology, written history, and Native oral traditions open these stories of New Mexico's past.

The public is often overwhelmed as they discover the broad territory that the field of archaeology encompasses. Archaeology embraces site discovery, excavation, laboratory analysis of many artifact types, writing reports, and finally the cataloging and storage of all the excavated material for future generations to study. Each of these archaeological subareas employs a wide range of tools, techniques, methods, and theories as archaeologists try to learn and understand the archaeological record. Some archaeologists specialize in the analysis of pottery, animal bones, or plant remains.

Archaeologists are always concerned about the age of their discoveries, and a number of dating techniques have been developed to solve this problem. The dry Southwest environment preserves much wood on archaeological sites. This region of the United States became a laboratory for dendrochronology, or tree-ring dating. Tree-rings sometimes enable archaeologists to discover exactly what year a tree was cut down. In addition, tree-ring patterns also provide crucial information on ancient climate patterns, since trees grow wider or narrower rings depending on the quantity of rainfall.

Archaeology reconstructs interesting stories of human adaptations to changing climates over long periods of time. Archaeology introduces the complex nature of human and environmental systems. The exciting and challenging story of New Mexico's past at once sparks the imagination and critical thinking. Who knows what new discoveries may be waiting for young students contemplating becoming archaeologists?

Education Outreach

The OAS Education Outreach Program is guided by a mission of sharing our professional knowledge of New Mexico's rich cultural heritage with the public. OAS archaeologists believe that archaeological knowledge complements the traditional histories and beliefs of the region's native peoples.

The award-winning OAS Education Outreach Program is currently celebrating its twentieth anniversary. We have talked directly with a diverse audience of well over 100,000 people during that time and delivered programs in each of New Mexico's thirty-three counties for the third year running. Our endeavors were recognized in 2005 and again in 2012 with the Society for American Archaeology's prestigious Award for Excellence in Public Education. This award recognized OAS as a leader in exploring and identifying effective ways to share knowledge with the public, including with audiences not otherwise predisposed towards archaeological research and preservation. Through educational tours, lectures, artifact displays, and direct assistance, the Education Outreach endeavors to generate an appreciation for the richness of the cultural heritage of New Mexico. Because the archaeological record is fragile, it warrants respect, and it requires special care.

Education outreach activities have been designed around individual grade school classes interested in archaeology, but also around large regional events such as the Festival of the Cranes in Socorro, involving thousands of people. Programs have been delivered to elementary, middle, and high school students, museum docents, archaeological societies, a wide range of civic groups, and Native American groups. Activities include lectures and slide shows on a wide range of topics and hands-on demonstrations of ancient and historic period technologies and lifeways. Topics can often be customized around audience interests. One popular core program is a hands-on exhibit of artifacts, allowing students and the public direct experience with a wide time line of New Mexico archaeology, lifeways, and technology. One can experience firsthand how an atlatl was used to throw a spear, how cordage was manufactured from yucca, and how a turkey-feather blanket can keep you warm on the coldest days.

The OAS Education Outreach Program is financially supported by a combination of State of New Mexico funds, grants from the Museum of New Mexico Foundation, and money raised by Friends of Archaeology, an MNMF interest group. The availability of activities depends on OAS work schedules and funding. Most of the program funds are spent on time and travel to counties of the state that don't have easy access to the museums. Programs will be developed in consultation with the host school or group, selecting from the wide variety of hands-on offerings that have gained national recognition for excellence in public education. Find out how archaeology can inspire and spark your imagination about the past.


For more information on the Education Outreach Program, please contact Chuck Hannaford at 505-476-4415 or

Friends of Archaeology

The Friends of Archaeology supports the research and education outreach activities of the OAS. The Friends, a support group of the Museum of New Mexico Foundation, organizes field trips, lectures, and other events that bring archaeologists and the public together. A calendar of upcoming events can be found at the Museum of New Mexico Foundation's Friends of Archaeology calendar of events page.