New Mexico Office of Archaeological Studies

New Mexico History Museum

Project name: New Mexico History Museum
Period: Early Spanish Colonial to early statehood (early 1600s to early 1700s)
Site type: Trash and borrow area, cemetery, garden, barracks, storerooms, barns, furnace
Project director: Stephen Post

Excavations at the Palace of the Governors for the New Mexico History Museum

Between October 2002 and October 2004, OAS completed excavations behind the Palace of the Governors in advance of construction of the New Mexico State History Museum in downtown Santa Fe. During fifteen months of fieldwork conducted by our archaeologists and more than thirty volunteers, we recovered more than 800,000 artifacts, and exposed and documented 200 cultural features from early Spanish Colonial to early statehood occupation of the Palace of the Governors grounds. Research focused on three main topics: identifying factors that may have influenced growth and change at the site; social and economic relationships between occupants of the Palace and local Hispanic, Indian, and Euroamerican populations and regional interaction with outlying settlements and distant administrative and economic centers; and the integration of existing archaeological studies of historic downtown Santa Fe with the new information collected during excavation and analysis.

Project Director Steve Post We determined that the area behind the Palace was primarily used for refuse disposal, material borrowing, and gardening from the early 1600s into the early or middle 1700s. This Spanish Colonial use was interrupted by the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, of which we encountered no physical evidence. In the middle 1700s the area was used as an informal cemetery, an irrigated garden, and a probable orchard bounded on the south, east, and west by cobble foundation buildings and walls. By the late 1700s, the Palace of the Governors outbuildings covered 18,000 square feet used as barracks, storerooms, and possibly barns or rooms with animal stalls. Some of these buildings were still standing when the US Army arrived in 1846 and may have been used until 1867, when all buildings behind the Palace of the Governors were demolished. Intermittent use as a governor's garden and refuse disposal characterized Territorial-period activities, except for construction of an assayer's furnace and storeroom between 1879 and 1881, during Governor Lew Wallace's term. The latter facilities were leveled, and the central area remained open space, while twentieth-century downtown Santa Fe grew around it.

Artifacts recovered during the excavation reflect expected economic trends. Pueblo-made pottery and butchered domesticated animal bone dominated artifacts dating from the early 1600s to the middle 1800s. Following completion of the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway spur in 1879, there was a flood of manufactured goods from the eastern United States. After the eighteenth century, animal bone from the excavation reflects a change in the predominant meat animals being consumed from cattle to sheep or goats. Low numbers of pig, chicken, turkey, and fish bones indicate breadth and diversity of diet. An interesting divergence from these patterns is the high occurrence of rabbit, deer, and other wild species in association with a mix of domestic and wild plant species. This record of wild plant and animal discard may reflect dietary stress or preference as changes occurred in the makeup of the Palace of the Governors staff and household help.

As analysis continues, we expect to expand our understanding of changing consumption patterns as they relate to the complex social relationships that were negotiated behind and within the Palace of the Governors. New information obtained on the architecture of the Palace as a result of this study confirms and elaborates on the changing character of the structure from its founding as a military government building to its current function as a museum.