Gallina Site Relocation and Documentation
Santa Fe National Forest, New Mexico, 2004
by Chris Reed, PIT Volunteer
An archaeologist friend told me about some fascinating scenery and archaeology in the Santa Fe area of northern New Mexico. The FS PIT program gave me an opportunity to not only see the area but to work with FS archaeologists, site stewards, and other volunteers to update the records regarding a group known as the Gallina. They lived and built their homes during the period A.D. 1050–1275. These ancient people are unique because of their isolation and the fact that they didn’t trade with the well-known ancient Pueblo people or Anasazi of the Four Corners area.
Our main task was to relocate some of the sites Dr. Herbert Dick and his students located and documented in the mid-1970s and update the site records. We planned to map, record, and photograph using current survey technology. On the first day, FS archaeologist Mike Bremer showed us a topographic map with more than a hundred dots representing known sites. It was amazing to see the vast number of past homesites in such a small geographic area. During the week, we were able to see 10 of them and record 5.
We met in Santa Fe and drove a scenic route, traversing a beautiful valley and passing by a lake, and finally came to our remote campsite in the Llaves Valley. The rugged topog-raphy consisted of alternating high mesas, steep ridges, narrow valleys, and scattered mountains. We set up camp within a side canyon under a canopy of pine trees. On either side of the canyon lie ridges, each with a set of stone ruins blending into the landscape. On top of the southern ridge, light sandstone stood out against the blue sky. Upon a closer look, one could see a stone slit that could have been a lookout point. Several of us took advantage of our free time to hike to the top for a closer look. Behind the lookout and among the trees was a deep depression in the ground the size of a home swimming pool, with interlaced stones. Seven hundred years ago, this was one of the homes to the Gallina people. Two evenings later, we went back up to see the rock art we had missed that was directly below the ridge. Local site stewards Lee and Candy told us about the petroglyphs and provided us directions, using the proximity of a large yucca plant as a signpost.
Each of the ancient sites we visited was on top of a ridge with far-reaching views of the green valley and forested mountains on each side. The masonry rubble structures were either constructed belowground as pit houses or aboveground as unit houses. We mapped the locations of the room blocks and rubble mounds, identifying the types of lithic materials and broken pottery, and describing the surrounding environment. In addition to the unit houses, pit houses, and stone bins, there was a series of agricultural terraces. We mapped these using the baseline method, and our resulting map revealed a small community on top of this ridge with great views of their surrounding landscape. They had their shelter, storage bins, and agricultural areas—a past life now silent with the passage of time.
The highlight of the week was to document a mesa-top site known as the “Eagle Trap.” The trap is a small alcove in which a person could hide, cover the opening with brush, and tie a rabbit down. When an eagle flew down to catch the rabbit, a man would spring up to catch the eagle. Knowing the size and strength of an eagle being captured, I cannot imagine a brave soul trying to wrestle with this special bird. Directly below the trap on the eastern side of the sandstone, there was a panel of petroglyphs depicting human figures.
Along with the thick-wall and large-room architecture, the Gallina are also known for their pointed-bottom pottery. The advantage of this shape is that the pot can be place directly on the coals of a fire. Other pottery pieces were corrugated, plain tan or gray ware, and painted black on gray. Many of their stone tools were made from a local light brown or gray Nacimiento chert. Obsidian and fine-grain basalt were also used.
Each morning, I woke up with the sun, heated water for tea, and watched the day come alive. The clouds in the eastern sky evolved from purple, to orange, then white with the warming glow of the sun coming up from behind the mountains. I would listen to the birds and watch the green plant life change from a grayish green to yellowish green. The white sandstone mountain ridge above us would brighten up. With all of the shade trees, the bright sunlight and corresponding warmth moved along the ground to make our camp more comfortable. As the morning turned warm, I could tell it would be another day in paradise.
At night after dinner we would join at a campfire. Not only did the fire keep us warm, we could get to know each other and share stories. We mused about whether the Gallina people were predominantly hunters or farmers. Another night, Mike wanted us to think of a good research question for him to ponder. I started to think about the reasons houses with the same interior features were built on various ground levels. Could it be the toughness of the ground, or could these people not accept change? And there was the night “Site Steward” Bill entertained us with some of his stories of living in Saudi Arabia.
On the last day, Martha Dick, the wife of Dr. Dick, met us in camp. She provided an oral history of the 10 field schools that she and her husband coordinated, the archaeological methods of the past, and some insights into the personalities of the time. All of us duly noted that back in the 1970s, the students were served lunch in the field. We, on the other hand, had to bring our own lunches. One of Mike’s hopes was to instill in us the passion he has for the archaeology of the area. During the week, my passion grew each day. I would love to return. The week was special to me because of the beautiful landscape, the unique archaeology, and friendliness of my coworkers.