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    Spanish Colonial New Mexico Project  

Cultural and Environmental Investigations of a 17th-Century Spanish New Mexican Household

We know surprisingly little about the social or environmental relationships that occurred at Spanish ranches during the initial years of colonial society. These households were an important location for cross-cultural interactions as Spanish colonists and indigenous peoples labored at basic subsistence activities. In this project, we explore the very basic question: how did colonizers establish and maintain households in this novel social and physical environment?

Households were the primary unit of production and foundation of economic activity in 17th-century New Mexico. The majority of Spanish colonizers lived in rural ranches, making the activities at these locations particularly important. In their agricultural and ranching activities, colonists introduced not only new flora and fauna, but also new land-use practices. It was through economic activities that native peoples were integrated, often forcibly, into the colonists’ households. In the early colonial period, these multi-ethnic households were places where cultural practices and material culture were exchanged and brought to bear on the tasks of making do in this often-difficult environment.

We are exploring these issues through archaeological investigations at LA 20,000, a 17th-century Spanish ranch located about 12 miles south of Santa Fe. This site is owned by the living history museum El Rancho de las Golondrinas. Using a combination of methods, such as shallow geophysics (remote sensing), excavation, and analysis of artifacts and environmental samples, we are investigating: 1) the construction and use of space to understand the economic activities at the ranch; 2) foodways to understand the process of selecting and transforming plants and animals into meals; 3) how these activities both impacted and were structured by the environment and 4) how indigenous peoples were integrated into the activities.

This NSF funded project is undertaken in collaboration with El Rancho de las Golondrinas. If visiting El Rancho de las Golondrinas, check out the exhibit showing the work, past and present, at LA 20,000.

This work was funded by the US National Science Foundation (BCS #1221564 and #1460297).

Environmental Correlates of Colonization in New Mexico

Investigating Activities at a Spanish Ranch in 17th Century New Mexico