UNL anthropologist digitizing archaeological records

jbrehm2, March 30, 2015 | View original publication

UNL anthropologist digitizing archaeological records

A new $300,000 grant will allow a University of Nebraska-Lincoln professor and a team of researchers to digitize millions of artifacts, specimens and samples from excavations of a 1,000-year-old Pueblo civilization in northwest New Mexico.

Carrie Heitman, UNL assistant professor of anthropology, will help lead the National Endowment for the Humanities-funded project to digitize the Salmon Pueblo Archeological Research Collection.

Salmon Pueblo, near modern-day Bloomfield, N.M., was home to one of the largest ancestral communities outside Chaco Canyon. More than 200 satellite Pueblo communities existed outside of Chaco Canyon, but Salmon Pueblo is the only Chacoan site to have been comprehensively excavated in the last 40 years.

Salmon Pueblo is known for its three-story, 300-room “great house.” This great house is an example of the type of architecture that was used to build these communities and the vast infrastructure that connected them.

About 1.5 million records exist from excavations from the 1970s and 1980s, including photographs, feature forms, field notes and other records. There also are existing databases that must be reintegrated with the primary excavation records, she said.

While the excavations have unearthed many answers, the information is not easily available to researchers — something that will change with completion of the digitization project, Heitman said.

“Few people have access to that information right now because it’s just paper files or spreadsheets that aren’t openly available,” Heitman said. “This project will make them publicly accessible and integrate them in a way that is useful for researchers so they can locate the information they need to answer specific questions.”

Having the complete Salmon Pueblo data available will allow researchers to explore further this historically and culturally significant community. It will be a primary resource for a range of disciplines from across the humanities and will bring material culture, North American cultural heritage and Native history together in one place. Researchers will be able to answer new questions such as how and why the Pueblo people decided to form these large-scale communities; and what was the religious and political authority in the formation of these societies?

The new data sets will be added to the existing Chaco Research Archive, a nationally recognized digital archive of archeological and historical data from the Chaco region. Heitman also is the director of the CRA, which is in the Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities at the University of Virginia.

“This is a nice partnership between two major centers,” Heitman said. “These are two centers that have worked together in the past but this is a new partnership with the Chaco Research Archive.”

Interest in the records is broad, she said — and not only among archaeologists.

“There are a lot of stakeholders, especially Native, descendent communities who are interested in their ancestral places,” Heitman said.

Heitman said the NEH grant will fully fund the project, which is to begin in May and run through 2017.