New Mexico Office of Archaeological Studies

Loving Lakes

Project name: Loving Lakes
Site type: Prehistoric camp sites; historic ranch features
Period: Terminal Archaic or earlier to early Formative
Dates: ca. 8000–6000 BC and 4000–2000 BC (projectile points); AD 200–1200 (radiocarbon)
Project director: Regge Wiseman 

Prehistoric Camps in Southeast New Mexico

OAS crews spent from late 2006 to late 2007 excavating open, prehistoric camp sites in southeast New Mexico. The work was undertaken in conjunction with the New Mexico Department of Transportation and the Bureau of Land Management, Carlsbad Office, along the proposed realignment of New Mexico Highway 128 between Loving and Jal. Data recovery excavations were completed at seven prehistoric sites. The remains of a corral and other features from the historic period of ranching were also documented through photography and archival research. Excavating in the dunes

Searing temperatures, unusually high amounts of rainfall, and blowing sand made field conditions challenging. The archaeologists recovered evidence that mobile prehistoric hunter-gatherer groups camped intermittently in the Loving Lakes region of southeast Eddy County for at least 8,000 years. Most of the 246 cultural features were hearths; the remainder included pits, stacked cobbles, and possible post molds. The post molds imply the past use of small, ephemeral structures such as wickiups, windbreaks, or ramadas. Recovered artifacts, which number in the thousands, include flaked stone tools and tool-making debris, projectile points, knives, ceramic-vessel sherds, ground stone implements (manos and slab metates), and fire-cracked rock.

Preliminary results of radiocarbon dating indicate repeated occupations during the terminal Archaic and early Formative periods between AD 200 and 1200. Projectile points suggest earlier use during the middle Archaic period (ca. 4000–2000 BC) and the late Paleoindian period (ca. 8000-6000 BC). Recent paleoenvironmental data from soils studies and trench excavations have revealed evidence of prehistoric marshes (or cienegas), which may help us better understand the diet of early occupants in the region. While we believe that hunter-gatherer groups targeted small game and wild plants, we have also found that they acquired extra protein in the form of freshwater mussels. The paleoenvironmental data also suggest that the prehistoric environment was dominated by grasslands with some mesquite and saltbush, while the present-day environment, dominated by mesquite coppice dunes, developed only in the last 100 years.

Laboratory work and the writing of a technical report have begun in earnest. Archaeologists are sorting and cataloguing field samples and beginning to clean and bag ceramic and flaked stone artifacts, and the paleobotanical samples are being prepared for analysis.