Between 2015 and 2017, RAAP conducted survey work in the greater Reserve, New Mexico, region. The survey is part of our long-term research project focusing on regional changes in population density and settlement organization related to paleoclimatic changes, natural resource distributions, and broader social developments during the Pithouse through Pueblo periods (ca. 200–1350 CE).
Survey crews consisted of Denver Museum of Nature & Science curators Dr. Michele Koons and Dr. Steven Nash, Museum research associate Dr. Deborah Huntley, high school students participating in the Museum’s Teen Science Scholars program, and Museum volunteers.
Located between the well-known Mimbres region to the south and the Chaco and Cibola regions to the north, the Mogollon Highlands are often viewed as a transitional zone, frontier, boundary land, or even a backwater. These varied interpretations are mostly due to the lack of research and, consequently, a general lack of awareness of the nature and density of the settlement in the region. Our research, along with the limited amount of other work in the region, demonstrates that the Reserve area maintained an expansive and intensive population during the early part of the Pueblo period (1000–1250 CE). Masonry pueblos with 40 to 100 rooms line the margins of the perennial Tularosa and San Francisco rivers. Deeper into the mountainous terrain, there are smaller pueblos of two to 10 rooms dotting the landscape. Many of these smaller settlements were likely supported by the abundance of natural springs in the area that now sustain ranching and cattle grazing.
Thus far, we have examined several survey tracts in a range of environmental settings—from pinyon and juniper scrublands to ponderosa pine forests. We have covered over 3,000 acres and documented 44 archaeological sites—including several previously (and often poorly) recorded sites. Although we have recorded pithouse sites, the majority of the sites we identified are masonry pueblos associated with black-on-white pottery from the Reserve (1000–1100 CE) and Tularosa (1100–1250 CE) phases. We have also noted a handful of previously unrecorded rectangular great kivas, which led to our excavation of the Torriette Lakes Great Kiva and the quest to understand the community that used this space.