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24 • FEBRUARY 2017

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T HE STUDY OF HISTORY • ELVA K. ÖSTERREICH

Human Systems

Archeology making connections ac

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uman Systems Research Inc., a nonprofit archeological research firm, is celebrating its 45th birthday this year. The company is focused on exploring the ancient world of New Mexico and sustains its research projects in part by contracting its services to government agencies and other companies. For 21 years HSR served as the archeological contractor for White Sands Missile Range and still works out on the range for certain jobs. In 1972, a small group of University of New Mexico graduate students created the nonprofit, said Deborah Dennis, director of HSR. “With most of our effort tied up in our own research, we earned the money by working for the feds, the government and others,” she said. “We competed against huge corporate conglomerates and sustained ourselves.” In the Bush years, around 2004, things were tougher because government entities like WSMR became small business set asides, and only small businesses could be on contract with them. “The idea was to give the small businesses a better chance,” Dennis said. “But large corporations fronted the small businesses. We were cut out of the work at WSMR, but they would find ways to sole-source to us anyway.” HSR was tasked in 1988 by WSMR to monitor the efforts of Ova Noss, who was searching for a stash of gold supposedly hidden in the San Andres Mountains by Warm Springs Apache Chief Victorio. “We were there to keep an eye on them, to preserve cultural resources,” Dennis said. “Then our guys started

finding cartridges.” The cartridges led to one of the biggest archeologic projects in New Mexico when HSR developed the Hembrillo Battlefield find. Volunteers painstakingly went over 900 acres with metal detectors, recovering on- ground objects, recording every one of them. Observing cartridge striations, the archeologic investigators were able to isolate individual guns. And using the ARC view program, they were able to track the guns’ movements on the battlefield and recreate the 1880 battle. “The Buffalo soldiers were blamed for losing the battle, but archeological evidence proved they were not at fault,” Dennis said. “Victorio fought a rear-guard action. It was his last big battle before his death.” Today, she said, the Army uses the lessons learned from Victorio for strategic training. Archeologist Karl Laumbach still goes out to the field and gives tours to visiting generals and officers. Dennis said all Victorio ever wanted in the first place was a homeland. President Grant had, in 1874, given the Warm Springs Apache the Montecello Box Canyon west of Truth or Consequences as their home. But Victorio’s people were soon uprooted from that homeland by the Department of the Interior and shuffled to Arizona, an action which led to Victorio’s flight and ultimately to the battle at Hembrillo. In 1989, the experience at Hembrillo took HSR to explore the canyon where Victorio’s people claimed home. The Montecello Box is located in an area called Cañada Alamosa. “We were dumfounded,” Dennis said.

The exploration of Cañada Alamosa that grew out of the Hembrillo exploration turned into a 20-year research project. HSR branched out into the Cañada Alamosa Institute, which found site after archeological site in the canyon, and began the work of excavating some of them and trying to determine timelines, as and whether they are contiguously connected by one people or if the place has been occupied and used by a variety of peoples. The Cañada Alamosa Project systematically tested four sites, each located less than one mile from the others. Collectively their temporal components span the time period from circa A.D. 600 to A.D. 1400. These sites are the Montoya Site, the Kelly Canyon Site, the Victorio Site and the Pinnacle Site. After excavating for 13 years, the company has now been assembling and correlating the research. They will be coming out with two books on the project, Dennis said. “We only began to scratch the surface,” she said. “We are looking at a series of migrations. Very different pop-

The Building New Mexico had more Civilian Conservation Corps camps than any state in the Union, Dennis said. The building in which Human Systems Research Inc. is housed, 535 S. Melendres St. in Las Cruces, was built in 1937 as a CCC school. The CCC was specifically created for young men 18 to 21. In 1998 HSR purchased the building and discovered old CCC workbooks still in the building. “A lot of them tried to get into the CCC specifically so they could complete college with engineering degrees by going after work,” she said. “The CCC camp sustained the agriculture in the area.” But then the program had been under the Department of War and they made the area into a German/Italian POW camp and the building became the army’s administration headquarters for the camp. When the Germans and Italians didn’t get along, the Italians were moved to a separated camp, located where Young Park is now in Las Cruces. HSR is working to preserve the historical building and getting it listed on the National Historic Register.

Above images are from Cañada Alamosa research sites taken over the 13 years Human Systems Research Inc. was on scene collecting and documenting in the Montecello Box Canyon area about 25 miles northwest of Truth or Consequences. (Courtesy Photos)

Desert Exposure - February 2017