Palmyra: A Lamentation

George Crawford:

Sad. Knowledge is lost forever. I could see the same happening here someday. Zealots are horrible people. Remember when the Taliban did this in Afghanistan? Most people don’t.

Originally posted on Middle Savagery:








I could write about the strange aesthetics of annihilation, iconoclasm, nationalism, symbolism, weaponized cultural heritage and the murder of people, a place, an archaeologist. I am supposed to be an expert in this, after all. Intimate of the ancient.

Or, on a more personal level–how Palmyra blushed toward the blue desert sky. How I was ragged sick so I didn’t take very many photos, but dragged around the site anyway, sitting in the shade of columns. Picking out details. Petting the friendly cats in the ruins. Now every time I hear about something else being destroyed I go back over the same photos. How it was the same when I found out about the Umayyad Mosque in Aleppo, the Al-Madina Souq, Crac de Chevalier, Bosra, the Dead Cities–a UNESCO listing is a death sentence. These are only the big, well-known sites, there is extensive looting, destroying sites beyond all recovery.

It is easy to be…

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Quick Tips: Use of Phytoliths in Archaeology.

George Crawford:

Phytoliths have played a major role in understanding the paleoenvironment of the Southern High Plains. Find out a little about them here with this excellent post.

Originally posted on All Things AAFS!:

Phytoliths are a very important identification tool in identifying plants within ancient environments, often even classifying down to the species of the plant.

But firstly, what are phytoliths? As the name phytolith suggests, coming from the Greek phyto- meaning plants and lith– meaning stone, they are tiny (less than 50µm) siliceous particles which plants produce. These phytoliths are commonly found within sediments, and can last hundreds of years as they are made of inorganic substances that do not decay when the other organic parts of the plant decay. Phytoliths can also be extracted from residue left on many different artefacts such as teeth (within the dental calculus), tools (such as rocks, worked lithics, scrapers, flakes, etc.) and pottery.

Image Table 1 & 2: Examples of the descriptors found within the International Code for Phytolith Nomenclature (ICPN), 2005, for use of naming phytoliths.
Figure 1: A bulliform phytolith under…

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Working on the Re-model


The old museum will remain open through the autumn but please call if you are traveling and want to know about specific dates.

I was told by a very wise museum professional last year that to hope to have a new museum in place inside a year was extremely optimistic.  Even a small one.  I think I could hear the word “crazy” in her sub-textual language.

So where are we now?

Honestly, little has occurred to the physical structure since May.  We discovered a fairly large roof leak that fortunately occurred while the space was essentially empty.  How lucky is that?  For good or ill, we are part of a university and share maintenance and construction with many departments.  As a “non-revenue generating, non-essential” department, we are far down the list of real priorities in the larger scheme.

Planning goes forward

I have visited several other museums in the interim and we continue to develop the plan and, in the mean time, some actual research is happening.

Art is commissioned

Our artists in Communication Services are working to create some new designs for T-shirts, mugs, and the like and we like what we are seeing so far.

Vendors are researched

Having never developed a museum it is sometimes difficult to know where to start for odd-ball museum goodies on a budget.  Good stuff is being located.

and finally, a completely new website is under development

I intend to upkeep this blog, however slow it may be, but the University has finally dove in and is re-working the entire website.  Our expected launch should come in the winter with a hoped-for opening of the new facility will be in the early spring.


In the interim, I intend to keep the old museum open for as long as possible because, until we have a space to move into, there won’t be much to see there.  And for the positive responses to the last post, both public and private, as well as the safe return of many appropriated objects from the Landmark, I want to personally thank you.

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Changes Ahead and an Update from the Director

blackwater-draw logoAbout our web presence or disturbing lack thereof:

We have been working with our Communication Services Department for some months now to develop a new and better website that is university sanctioned. Until recently, blogs like mine, had to be maintained “unofficially” as there was this great fear of rogue blogging.  When I started in this position, and for the subsequent few years, it was nearly impossible to control content or make changes to our “official” website leading to angry complaints about out of date information, incorrect hours and dates for our museums, and a general lack of useful or real information about this world-class National Landmark.  Adding new blog-like posts were out of the question as there was a  two-week delay between submission and publication.

Social Media:

I believe we have (finally)  entered a new era in social media and we even maintain a relatively active Facebook presence (and no, we don’t have the time, nor are we exciting enough to use Twitter).

Changes to the Museum:

YES!  We are finally in the process of updating our museum. It is always a shock to avocational and professional archaeologists that there is not an enormous edifice with an attached research center at the Blackwater Draw National Historic Landmark or nearby on the campus of Eastern New Mexico University. I know, I felt the same when I first visited this Mecca.  This massive archaeological landscape has been largely overlooked and held in statu quo for decades now while some serious myths have made it into print about the nature and status of the cultural resources here.

I have sacrificed much to remedy this and I think, maybe, we are now on the right path.  We have been allocated a small but significant amount of money to create new displays in a better space on campus.  I don’t even care that others have taken credit for this many year long struggle, I’m just glad it is getting done.

Creating a museum, even a small one, does not happen overnight and it isn’t a matter of just moving a truck load of 45 year old, outdated displays to a new room.  We intend to do this right, and that means a complete re-vamp of the story we tell and how it is told.  Please bear with us during the coming year while we make these changes.

I will continue this blog though it will soon be mirrored, in an edited form, elsewhere and we will, I hope, produce something to further the understanding of the Clovis site and the spread of early humans on the Southern High Plains.


To the many individuals and institutions who have worked with us in recent years to return materials taken, borrowed, or purchased unscrupulously from the site, I thank you.*

George Crawford, Director – Blackwater Draw National Historic Landmark

*Despite rumor and legal hearsay, there is no legitimate way to own specimens from this site, whether you work for the Federal Government, another state, or you purchased something from someone who worked for the mine company.

And on a personal note: I sincerely hope that some of the people and institutions who have taken artifacts and other specimens from our site will be able to let them go to be returned to our research collection.  Greed for possession and the ego boost of having something from the type-site do not advance our field, they only serve to divide us and blur our understanding of the past.

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Health & Safety for Academic Archaeologists (Part 2)

George Crawford:

I have personally encountered some seriously ridiculous practices; nearly all from summer dilettante professors playing at archaeology. With a few exceptions, they get people hurt, destroy sites, and make foolish decisions.

Originally posted on Middle Savagery:

Screen Shot 2015-06-22 at 1.44.01 PM

With summertime coming around again, it is time for archaeologists to post photos of breathtakingly dangerous practice. I wonder sometimes if the digital age will eventually help improve practice at archaeological excavations through public censure and raised awareness. I’m not sure–my first Health & Safety for Academic Archaeologists (part 1) was posted in 2011 when I was shocked and outraged at stunning disregard for the wellbeing of workers displayed in photographs in the New York Times. But have things changed? Apparently not.

I was alerted to this particular instance from BAJR’s Facebook page, and there are nearly 100 similarly outraged comments below the link. The university backing the project has been notified by members of BAJR, but can we all agree to stop this now? This is not something that we should be teaching students. Projects that post photos like this should not be funded and should come under serious censure.

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Pleistocene Man-Eaters

George Crawford:

“Humans are still part of the food chain.” I cannot stress this enough when talking to the public about “where are all the bodies?”

Originally posted on GeorgiaBeforePeople:

The sum total of paleoindian skeletal material ever discovered could fit inside a single coffin and with room to spare.  This isn’t true of Pleistocene Homo sapiens  remains found in Europe where bogs and caves are more common than in America.  Also, humans lived in Europe for tens of thousands of years, whereas humans occupied the vast spaces of America for just the last few thousands years of the Pleistocene, another factor that explains this disparity in abundance of remains. The rarity of human fossil remains from America makes it impossible to determine how often Homosapiens fell prey to large predators on this continent.  Despite the absence of evidence, I have no doubt America’s large carnivores were man-eaters at least some of the time.  The sole mystery, one that will probably never be solved, was the frequency of this behavior.

Humans are still part of the food chain.  The region including India…

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A Pleistocene Species of Bison (Bison antiquus) Survived in Canada until 4830 Calender Years Ago

George Crawford:


Originally posted on GeorgiaBeforePeople:

The terminal radiocarbon dates for North America’s Pleistocene megafauna consistently translate to about 12,000 calendar years BP.  Because these dates are so consistent for so many different species, scientists assume Pleistocene megafauna became extinct 12,000 years ago.  I hypothesize this date reflects when these species became rare and local in distribution and not when these species actually became extinct.  The chance that bones will become preserved in the environment for thousands of years is low and depends on unlikely circumstances.  For example a flood has to rapidly cover remains of an animal with sediment before scavengers consume the carcass, and the soil chemistry has to have anti-bacterial qualities that prevent microbial consumption.  Then, a man has to be lucky enough to even find it.  An animal had to have been abundant in its environment to appear in the fossil record. I believe most species of Pleistocene megafauna continued to exist more recently than…

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Mastodon Excavation

As seen on the Field Museum’s Tumblr page earlier this year.


Man with shovel collecting fossil Mastodon bones, creek bed.

5×7 negative


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Prehistory Day 2015

Here are a few photos of the Blackwater Draw Open House and Prehistory Day.  Thanks to everyone who came out and especially those who dedicated a Saturday to make this event possible.  As usual, we were all so busy that we didn’t take too many photos, especially during the rush.  Here are a few to whet the appetite for next year.  An estimated 250 people attended throughout the day.  The weather was as fair as it gets and a good time was had by all.

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The North Bank Excavations ca. 1963

NB4 - 1

Photo courtesy of James Warnica, El Llano Archaeological Society.

Here is a great photo-mosaic from the North Bank excavations in the early 1960s.  The humans in the background examining the stratigraphy really put the Clovis-age mammoths in their proper scale.  Unfortunately, Mammoth IV in the background is covered in this photo.

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The Last of the Mammoths

Dwarf Mammuthus primigenius, cousin to our own Columbian mammoth.

When the pyramids were being built, there were still wooly mammoths.  A few anyway.  Probably more on earth than there are rhinoceroses NOW; today!

Keeping time in perspective is the most difficult task when talking to or writing for the public.  Way back in college I kept notebooks of correlating timelines from around the world.  I still do this to some degree but it grows too fast to be really useful.  Twenty-plus years ago I started a project in Adobe Illustrator (that alone should give some perspective of technology) to create a graphic concordance; but it was too big to handle without making it a job.  Anyway, facts like that above are very useful for keeping a perspective of time.

A few other tidbits from this interesting blog post*:

Oxford University was over 300 years old when the Aztec Empire (Mexica) was founded.”  Oxford ca. 1100 C.E., Aztec alliance 1428 – 1521 C.E.

“The last use of the guillotine was in France the same year Star Wars came out” (1977).

“When pilgrims were landing on Plymouth Rock, you could already visit what is now Santa Fe, New Mexico to stay at a hotel, eat at a restaurant and buy Native American silver.”  (Santa Fe, New Mexico founded 1610, Plymouth Colony founded 1620).


“The Ottoman Empire still existed the last time the Cubs won the World Series.”

*I use these types of “factoids” with caution as the Internet is a sketchy resource at best.  Do your research!

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