eNews October 2018

ENMU Graduate Student Conducts Research to Determine if Cultural Connection Can be Discerned in Irrigation Systems at Creekside Village in New Mexico

by Desiree Cooper, Eastern New Mexico University News

Christine Gilbertson, an Eastern New Mexico University graduate student studying anthropology and archaeology, is working on a grant project funded by the New Mexico Water Resources Research Institute (NM WRRI) titled “Historic and Ancient Ditch Irrigation Inform Current Systems: A Cross Cultural Comparison from Creekside Village of Tularosa, New Mexico.” Her faculty advisor is Dr. John Montgomery, professor of anthropology at ENMU.

Christine began her investigations of the Creekside Jornada Mogollon site during ENMU’s Archaeology Field School in the summer of 2017. She plans to complete her master’s thesis in the spring of 2019.

She says the highlight of her research was the opportunity to present her poster at the NM WRRI Conference. “Being able to listen to the speakers at the conference was a real highlight for me. The exchange of ideas was fascinating and gave my own research meaning. Being able to work along with my fellow graduate students both in the field and in the lab were both heartening to work alongside as well as stimulating and challenging.”

She added that attending the WRRI Conference “opened up my eyes to a whole new world of both research opportunities and worldviews.”

The focus of her thesis research is to determine if a cultural connection can be discerned in the irrigation systems at Creekside. To determine this, she looked at the morphology (canal profile shape), canal sediments, and placement of the irrigation systems on the landscape.

“If a cultural connection can be shown, then archaeologists may have some additional guidelines for identifying the cultural affiliation of systems in the field. It is also possible that we can learn some of the benefits of different cultural practices in dealing with water scarcity by comparing systems.

“Recognizing cultural differences in systems may also give recognition to groups for their cultural achievements that may have been ignored or misrepresented. This cultural connection has the possibility of promoting different groups of peoples buying in to water scarcity solutions.”

She chose her topic of research after looking at the irrigation of another site. Dr. Dave Greenwald, an archaeologist at Jornada Research Institute, was looking for graduate students interested in working at Creekside. He and Dr. James Neely gave the ENMU Department of Anthropology and Applied Archaeology a tour as a possible location for ENMU’s field school. Both Dr. Greenwald and Dr. Neely had worked on irrigation systems and were investigating Creekside’s systems.

“I felt like I had fallen into a gold mine,” Christine explains. “It was wonderful to talk to such knowledgeable archaeologists who were interested in the work I was interested in. I knew that I could learn a lot from both of them.”

Christine says the grant, along with providing funding for equipment and travel costs, helped her “realize the significance of water in my research. The WRRI conference was a real eye opener for me especially when I began to see the role that archaeology and anthropology could play as I listened to both Native speakers, the speaker from the Tree Ring Lab and some of the work being done at Elephant Butte Reservoir, and talking with some of the conference participants.

“I think that the grant helped me focus some of the implications of my canal research on water scarcity,” she explains. “I am very grateful for that insight as it really has great application to contemporary challenges. How examples from the past can inform on current problems in meaningful ways is important.”

Christine chose to attend ENMU after retiring as a teacher and farmer to “be a better archaeology volunteer. I felt like with the projects I was working on, I needed to understand more about anthropology and archaeology for the work I was engaged in.”

After graduating from ENMU, Christine plans to do archaeology volunteer work in New Mexico, the Southwest, and Canada. She wants to get involved with projects related to water.