Acomita Interchange

Project name: Acomita Interchange
Period: Pueblo II (two sites); Paleoindian, Early, Middle, and Late Archaic, Pueblo I and II, and historic period (one site)
Site types: Ephemeral camp; agricultural area; subsistence stopover and basecamp
Project director: Stephen C. Lentz

OAS archaeologists excavated three sites near the Acomita Interchange of I-40 in Cibola County for the New Mexico Department of Transportation.  

LA 108511 consisted of a small surface hearth with associated ground stone and Pueblo II (Pilares-phase) pottery and lithic artifacts. The hearth may represent an ephemeral occupation by a transitional group or groups, but the number of associated artifacts is greater than that typically left during a short occupation. Perhaps a more accurate index is artifact diversity, which is greater than usually generated at a simple logistical camp and suggests occupation during two time periods. Local residents reported that the project area had been disturbed by flooding (most recently in 2006), mechanical grading, and berm construction. It is unlikely that the artifacts encountered on the surface are still in situ. How this large and variable artifact scatter was initially deposited is problematic. Above-ground structures or pit structures may have been removed, or they may remain undetected.

LA 54902 was a small site consisting of Pueblo II (Cebolleta-phase) pottery and lithic artifacts. The site probably served as an agricultural area with an associated fieldhouse. Few artifacts were recovered. Pollen samples may confirm that the growing of domestic crops was the principal site function. Because of the substantial caliche substratum in the area, farming would have been confined to the top 10 to 20 cm. Those activities, in turn, would have been of short duration-several seasons at the most-because of soil depletion and erosion.  Artifacts from Acomita Interchange

LA 89019 was a large, multicomponent artifact scatter. Temporally diagnostic artifacts suggest Paleoindian; Early, Middle, and Late Archaic; Pueblo I and II; and historic period components. Artifacts, primarily chipped stone, were distributed unevenly across the site. In many instances, the artifacts were so concentrated that individual piece-plotting became impractical. One of these concentrations, a chipping station, contained artifacts in various stages of biface reduction. Large quantities of nonlocal material types were represented, including Jemez obsidian, fingerprint chert, Alibates chert, Edwards Plateau chert, Zuni spotted chert, and Jemez Polvadera obsidian, suggesting that selected cores were curated and transported to the site. A high-quality, fine-grained, possibly local chert was found in abundance, as well as artifacts made from the distinctive, opaque Mount Taylor obsidian. Surprisingly, only about half of the obsidian was local; the rest was from the Jemez Mountains, again suggesting that nonlocal material types were being introduced to this area.

In the absence of subsistence and chronometric data from the samples, definitive conclusions regarding LA 89019 must await these analyses. However, the site's location on a bluff overlooking Mount Taylor and the surrounding plains suggests it was a stopover for many mobile groups through time and was used as a permanent residence during the early twentieth century. The variety of material types suggests that many of the hunter and gatherer groups had contact with quarries in Texas and the surrounding mountain ranges, including the Zuni Mountains, Mount Taylor, and the Jemez Plateau. One of the attractions of this site was probably the profusion of tinajas (hollow inclusions in the bedrock which retain rainwater), a welcome respite for groups travelling over the semiarid plains.

The majority of diagnostic projectile points suggests that this area was popular with Archaic groups, but the variety of materials indicates a wide range of adaptations. The prolonged time that the site was used by foraging bands, agricultural groups, and historic families testifies to the continuity of its resources and its desirability as an intermittent base camp, as a butchering or foraging locus, and for sheep or cattle ranching. Given the subsistence adaptations of groups using the area, we can infer that game processing such as butchering, preparing meat packages, marrow extraction, and hide preparation took place here. However, because of the perishable nature of these kinds of foods, direct evidence of these activities is lacking.

Although it is unlikely that intensive agriculture occurred here, crops may have been sown and left unattended as a buffering strategy for returning groups. The presence of mostly expended tabular ground stone (which some suggest is diagnostic of hunter-and-gatherer subsistence) indicates that food processing occurred, possibly of wild-grass seeds, nuts, juniper berries, or even maize. Discarded and reutilized projectile points suggest that some onsite activities may have included the curation of gear and rearmament-for example, refurbishing weaponry and replacing broken projectile points or creating new ones. Biface manufacture and rejuvenation are certainly indicated by the abundant chipped stone scatters. More than one hearth feature was probably in use here, but they may have been erased or concealed by high winds and shifting sands.