On the Expedition
Join pioneering excavations of prehistoric quarries in the Valles Caldera and discover how humans interacted with this volcanic landscape 10,000 years ago. Encounter the ancient obsidian trade and document extraordinary findings that will help protect a National Preserve.
This is your opportunity to take part in the first excavations ever to be conducted at obsidian quarries in the Valles Caldera National Preserve (VCNP) in northern New Mexico.
You’ll explore the history of human use of the Valles Caldera by focusing on how people have exploited its high-quality obsidian resources. You’ll participate in archaeological testing and excavation at the large obsidian quarry site, and conduct additional surface surveys at nearby quarries. You’ll help carry out laboratory analyses of the abundant obsidian tool-making debris from these sites. You’ll learn about the recent and ancient cultural history of the American Southwest, lithic technology and obsidian flintknapping (the shaping of flint to manufacture stone tools) and the volcanology of the Valles Caldera. You’ll learn about the geology of obsidian, and how obsidian analyses are used by archaeologists to determine age and how they find out where an artefact was sourced through geochemical analysis.
The VCNP cultural resources program is gathering knowledge about long term human use of this unique high elevation volcanic environment in northern New Mexico. It aims to better understand how humans have adapted to and transformed the landscape over 10,000 years, incorporate this perspective into both historical ecology and cultural history, and use this knowledge to better preserve the cultural heritage of this landscape.
Meals and Accommodations
You’ll stay at the new VCNP Science and Education Center in Jemez Springs. Rooms are double occupancy with single beds, and a private toilet with shower. The facility provides a full catering kitchen, and dining facilities with an in-house cook. Volunteers are not expected to participate in food preparation. Dining facilities are indoors and comfortable, and there are also outdoor tables. Also, the center is located within easy walking distance to restaurants including a French bakery and an authentic Old West saloon.
About the Research Area
The Valles Caldera National Preserve is a forested volcanic setting in the middle of the Jemez Mountains in northern New Mexico. Elevations range from 8000 to 11,500 feet above mean sea level (2450 to 3500 m). The regional climate is semi-arid continental, and summer and fall weather is cool with occasional afternoon rain storms. The Preserve is extremely diverse: about 65% is forested and 30% is grasslands. The plant associations range from high elevation, sub-alpine forests down through mixed conifer forests to open foothill pine woodlands, and high montane grasslands down to valley floor wetlands.
The Preserve supports a great diversity of animals, plants and fungi. Volunteers are likely to see many elk during their time at the Preserve. Other animals that may be seen include mule deer, coyotes, bobcats, various squirrels, prairie dogs, chipmunks, raccoons, skunks, cottontails, woodrats, mice, weasels, beavers, badgers, black bears and mountain lions. Local birds include blue grouse, Merriam's turkey, various hawks and owls, robins, house wrens, woodpeckers, nighthawks, hummingbirds, white-throated swifts, sparrows, warblers, meadowlarks, chickadees and golden and bald eagles.
The town of Jemez Springs is a small and quiet, but popular, tourist destination. It is notable for its gorgeous canyon views and natural hot springs, and there is a hot springs bath house nearby. There are two churches, a cloistered nunnery, a Buddhist retreat center and art galleries. Shopping and museums are available in Santa Fe (about two hours away), and conveniences can be reached in Los Alamos or Albuquerque (both within an hour of Jemez Springs). Albuquerque can be reached directly via bus, which also connects with a commuter rail to Santa Fe.
Available activities include hiking and fishing. The Pueblo of Jemez, as well as several other nearby Pueblos, hosts cultural dances throughout the year that are open to the public. At the Valles Caldera National Preserve you can enjoy hiking, fishing, and guided tours (including hikes and van tours focused on wildlife, floral, geology, archaeology, and history).
Nearby parks include Jemez State Monument, Walatowa Visitors Center, Bandelier National Monument. Three UNESCO world heritage sites lie within a five hour drive: Taos Pueblo, Chaco Culture National Historical Park and Mesa Verde National Park.