NM 550 & THE RIO GRANDE, BERNALILLO--Recent history in New Mexico encompasses the last thousand years. Actual documented human history here in the Land of Enchantment goes back another 9000, but the evidence is not so plentiful.
Artifacts from 1000 years ago, on the other hand, are darn near everywhere. And certainly the most celebrated interpreter of the remains of the last thousand years is UNM professor David E. Stuart.
Sunday afternoon he was in Bernalillo at the Coronado State Monument. I followed him around as he taught a class from UNM. It was overcast and windy all afternoon, but that didn’t dampen his enthusiasm. We began under the expansive eastern portal of the John Gaw Meem designed visitor’s center.
The Coronado State Monument is the site of the Tiwa village of Kuaua. Permanently settled about 1300, this village was first noted by the western world in 1540 when Coronado spent two winters in the area while searching for the fabled seven golden cities of Cibola.
What he found in Kuaua was an advanced society living in a multi-story community centered around 3 plazas. Coronado and his entourage made themselves at home. A Monument plaque states he brought 200 soldiers and about 1000 slaves and allies. The village contained maybe 900 inhabitants.
Just about the time all the stored food had been exhausted, a story began circulating that there actually was a city of gold somewhere in Kansas. The Coronado party left, never to return.
But this story was not the main topic of the afternoon. Stuart took us all on a trip that looked at what was around us through the eyes of an archaeologist or anthropologist...starting with the large pictures in the visitor’s center.
Of course the photographs in the center were not contemporaneous with the village, but still Stuart examined and explained them with an eye to making his class actually see what they were looking at, rather than noting only the obvious. “Axe cuts...” he said pointing to the ends of the vigas in a photo, “axe cuts mean the vigas were post 1875.”
A haystack of wheat showed the Spanish influence. The clothes, especially men’s clothes, looked western european. I wondered who had taken the photos. They dated from 1905.
The site was excavated around 1935, largely by students from Albuquerque High School, supervised by undergraduates and faculty from the University of New Mexico. The pueblo ruins that are visible today are actually a restoration done at that time on the foundations of the original village. Only about a third of the site has been excavated. The most remarkable restoration on the site is the great kiva.
The kiva, however, suffered a great deal of water damage in the past year and is currently being repaired under a large tent. It is unavailable for visitors at this time. But the murals that were original to the excavated kiva are on display in the visitor’s center.
When the kiva was excavated in 1935 and 36, the wall murals of the rectangular structure were encased in plaster and trucked to UNM’s Maxwell Museum where they stayed for many years. Archaeologists found over a dozen layers of paintings. Somehow they were able to separate them and display the ones that were best preserved. These murals are truly wonderful and show the biggest concern of the last 500 to 700 years in the Rio Grande valley: water. Every mural has some reference to water.
These murals cover a span of about 300 years. They are in a special room in the visitor’s center. Photographs of the murals are not allowed.
Water was more abundant when Coronado visited this area. Back then, according to Stuart, the areas of conflict between the Spanish and the Pueblo people were the same as they always have been: Religion and Women.
The Coronado State Monument was wonderful, of course. But the real thrill of the afternoon for me was just listening to David Stuart himself. He had been written up by David Steinburg in an ABQ Journal article earlier that same morning. And everyone frequenting Nob Hill has seen him working on manuscripts in Mannies or the Flying Star at one time or another.
UNM Press has published four of his novels. His most famous is probably The Guaymas Chronicles. His latest is Flight of Souls. A book-signing for Flight of Souls is scheduled for next weekend: 1-3 Saturday at Mannies (free posole and tortilla for book buyers) and on Sunday 3-5 at the Flying Star. Sunday’s signing will also feature authors V.B. Price and Baker Morrow.
Stuart also wrote the textbook for the class he is teaching. It is a very readable and informative book entitled Anasazi America. I would put it on any list of the top 5 books every New Mexican ought to read.