Exciting Ancient Waste


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25 miles southeast of Santa Fe, New Mexico you can immerse yourself in the fresh and fragrant smells of piñon, juniper, and ponderosa pine in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and walk amongst the remains of those who came before us, soaking in the wisdom of a culture that once dominated in this region.

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The remaining adobe walls of a Spanish church tower over the ruins of the Pecos Pueblo.  Yet, long before the Spaniards, for a quarter-mile along a ridge overlooking the valley of  Glorieta Creek and the Pecos River, the people of the Pecos Pueblo traded between people of the Rio Grande Valley and the hunting tribes of the buffalo plains.   Their frontier location invited both trade and competition.

Plains tribes, mostly nomadic Apaches, brought slaves, buffalo hides, flint, and shells to trade for pottery, crops, textiles, and turquoise.  The Pecos Indians were middlemen, traders and consumers of the very different cultures in the mountains and the plains, then eventually the settlers and the Spanish.  They became economically powerful and practiced in the arts and customs of many worlds.

Despite cultural blendings, Pecos Indians remained Puebloan in culture, practicing the ancient rituals around their sacred corn.  Before the Spanish arrived, people in the Rio Grande Valley congregated in multi-storied villages overlooking the streams and fields that nourished their crops.  In the 1400s, many of these groups gathered into Pecos Pueblo and became a regional power.

Finely tuned adjustments to their natural and cultivated world rested on practical scientific knowledge infused with spirituality.  By storytelling and dance, they conveyed the knowledge and wisdom of their past.  Individual, family, and social life were regulated via a religion binding all things together and holding balance, harmony, and fitness as the highest ideals.  Yet, ideals did not always prevail.   The unpredictable nature of the nomadic Plains Indians taught the Pecos a vigilance and flexibility that would serve them well in the presence of new arrivals.

The Pecos flourished by assimilating many points of view and were respected as dominant by neighboring pueblos.

The Spaniards would soon experience them as powerful allies and determined enemies.  Beginning with Francisco Vázquez de Coronado y Luján in 1540, large Spanish expeditions diminished the Pueblo populations in New Mexico, primarily with diseases they could not resist.  This resulted in the Spanish colonization of New Mexico by 1598.

During this time, New Mexico’s pueblos went from around 100 to 19.  Many pueblos were moved or consolidated to benefit Spanish labor demands and conversion to Christianity.   Disputes between the civil and religious authorities in New Mexico often caught the Pueblos in the middle.  In 1680, after many attempts to wipe out their cultural knowledge and beliefs, the Pueblos collectively revolted and successfully drove the Spanish out of New Mexico for more than a decade, but the Spanish returned in force and reconquered the region by 1694.  You have to click on    http://newmexicohistory.org/people/pueblo-runners-and-the-pueblo-revolt-1680   to learn the fascinating process the Pueblos underwent to organize this revolt!

Last week, I got to visit The Pecos National Historic Park to learn how it became an icon in southwestern archeology! For the first time, archeologist Alfred Kidder’s cutting edge work revealed centuries of the pueblo’s growth and decline  by understanding that exposure to artifacts in their discarded layers in the trash mound displayed a timeline to the pueblo’s history.

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As the trail passes strange mounds of grassland it becomes apparent we are witness to the trash and debris accumulated from centuries of people living in Pecos Pueblo.  That’s my mom  on the trail winding between the landfills that attracted Kidder to Pecos.  “It was obvious that we were digging in the greatest rubbish heap and cemetery that had ever been found in the pueblo region.  The slope stretched away to the south for nearly a quarter mile.”  The beds of rubbish were repositories for ash, house sweepings, table scraps, broken pottery and discarded implements.  They also served as burial sites for the dead because the mounds offered the only soft earth for grave digging in a land of bare rocks and hard packed clay.

At the Pecos National Historic Park you can feel the rhythms of a long-gone native way of life, contemplate cultural changes brought about by the Spanish and grasp the significance of the region’s ranch history.  You can see Santa Fe Trail ruts and a stage stop that served as Union headquarters for the Battle of Glorieta that kept New Mexico under the Union flag. http://www.nps.gov/peco/learn/historyculture/copy-of-battleofglorietta.htm

The museum exhibits the extraordinary excavations from the trash mounds and the site.  The objects tell the stories of a varied existence over a long period of time that experienced many changes in a unique and beautiful frontier setting.

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How You Can Help:

  • Consider what our trash will say about us.
  • Do something about it.

Until next week,  Zero-Waste-Truck

Garbage Girl

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