People, Piedras, Plants, and Pictographs: Collaboration and Indigenous Archaeology in Abiquiú, New Mexico
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People, Piedras, Plants, and Pictographs: Collaboration and Indigenous Archaeology in Abiquiú, New Mexico


The community of the Merced del Pueblo de Abiquiú in northern New Mexico has strong connections to their heritage and identity to their land grant and surrounding landscape. Abiquiuseños request an examination of the material culture found atop their most prominent land grant landmark, Abiquiú Mesa. This project collaborates with Abiquiuseños. Using archaeology and oral histories, we develop research questions related to the pre-contact history of the Abiquiú Mesa. My partnership with the Merced del Pueblo de Abiquiú includes a co-created research project that incorporates Abiquiuseños in the research design and a community leadership-vetted proposal and memorandum of agreement. This partnership is grounded in the place-making practices of ancestors and a decolonizing praxis framed by more ethical and accountable archaeology that is rooted in how archaeology can impact the present-day descendant community.My research draws upon a “spatial frame” theory encompassing western and indigenous knowledge that connects landscape theory, exchange theory concerning materiality, and indigenous philosophies. The framework opens an indigenous historical interpretation of past regional interactions that Abiquiuseños partook in and how their landscape narratives changed through time. Together we explore these questions by looking at archaeological evidence and providing knowledge of historical ties to material culture and surrounding areas. For example, one methodological focus is to investigate obsidian artifacts and rock art on the Abiquiú Mesa. Incorporating x-ray fluorescence spectrometry analysis on obsidian and rock paintings tells a pre-contact Abiquiú Mesa history narrative as it has been co-created over space or landscape by people and material culture. The primary methodological framework for the entire project revolves around community-based participatory research. Previous archaeological projects that incorporated collaboration with local and descendant communities demonstrate new archaeology possibilities that hold scholars accountable for their research and how to disseminate that knowledge. As an archaeologist, I am responsible for my institution and the Merced del Pueblo de Abiquiú by seeking advice and prioritizing community mandates in my decision-making process. Their approval of my interest in lithics and rock art, in their opinion, contributes to the community’s own goals regarding Abiquiú’s history. The goal is to uncover the historical knowledge found in ancestral places within Abiquiú Pueblo lands. Incorporating community members’ priorities in designing research questions about their past is essential. This project’s implementation strives to create an ethical and accountable archaeological project by including community members as stewards of the past. By asking for community approval and providing an opportunity for building community agency and control, a level of community autonomy occurs within the project. Community approval creates a collaborative and accountable archaeology project that establishes community members as partners. The method builds a collaborative atmosphere that involves the participation of Abiquiuseños of all ages in all levels of the research project. Collaborative projects of this nature do not lower the level of scholarship produced. Instead, my research recognizes multivocality, acknowledges intangible heritage, and prioritizes community-based research questions by mobilizing knowledge through various means, including community member’s perspectives and participation in lab and fieldwork. This research directly supports the Merced del Pueblo de Abiquiú in their pursuit of developing multigenerational knowledge transfer and potentially use the knowledge to reclaim lost Ancestral lands. My research operates in conversation with these issues by providing an archaeological interpretation of pre-contact occupational evidence and disseminates the historical knowledge produced back into the community.

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