Have you found pottery shards on your property? Ever wonder if that little hill in your backyard is an ancient ruin?
Since 2008, the Hisatsinom Archaeological Survey Program has helped landowners identify prehistoric sites with the goal of education and preservation.
Hisatsinom means “ancient people” in the Hopi language.
This month, the program’s creators, Bob and Diane McBride, were awarded the Ivol K. Hagar Award from the Colorado Archaeological Society for their long-term outreach and research contributions.
They were nominated by the local Hisatsinom Chapter of the Colorado Archaeological Society. The award is named after a well-known Colorado avocational archaeologist.
“In the past 24 years, this award has only been received by 12 people in Colorado,” said Karen Kinnear, CAS executive secretary.
The McBrides of Cortez along with volunteer avocational and professional archaeologists, conduct pedestrian archaeological surveys for private landowners at no cost.
In the past 12 years, the McBrides and their team have surveyed 26 parcels of private property at the owners’ request. It has resulted in the recording of 339 archaeology sites over 5,625 acres, mainly in Montezuma County.
No excavations take place. Surface artifacts are identified and left in the field. The team forms a spread-out line and slowly walks the property to flag potential sites, covering about 20 acres per day. Afterward, a report with text, drawings and photos is provided to landowners at no cost.
“The landowners we work with are very agreeable, and we are very grateful they allow us on their land. In turn, they learn something about their land,” Bob McBride said. Landowners considering building projects benefit from the survey so they can avoid them.
Landowners often accompany the surveyors.
“They may be planning a homesite, and when they learn where these sites are, they decide to adjust the location,” Diane McBride said. “They are really enthusiastic and impressed to find out what is out there on their land.”
“A lot of antiquates are lost to development on private land,” Bob McBride said. “We advocate for preservation archaeology for future generations. The Ancestral Puebloans thrived and prospered in our area, and they offer us lessons even today.”
Recorded sites are then submitted to the Colorado Office of Archaeology and Historic Preservation for entry into the statewide Compass database, which is available to archaeological professionals. The property owners also receive a printed report of the survey results.
The landowners, location of sites on private lands and the data remain confidential.
The McBrides have devoted hundreds of hours interpreting survey results, completing site forms and preparing reports. Their efforts have yielded important data about sites on private land, which are most threatened with destruction, said Dr. Mark Varien, executive vice president of the Research Institute at Crow Canyon Archaeological Center.
“The McBride-led surveys provide landowners with an understanding of the sites on their property, why the preservation of these sites is so important, and the role private landowners need to play as stewards of the archaeological record,” he said.
Pottery scatters can reveal detailed information about the historic uses of a site.
When no architecture is apparent, the pottery type and density can be recorded and loaded into a statistical spreadsheet to determine probability dates for when the site was occupied, settlement patterns and population.
Items and sites discovered that stand out over the years are an ancient stone knife blade, kivas, room structures, pit houses and arrowheads.
In one case, a seven kivas were found on a ridge of a private property. They were spaced 100 to 200 feet apart, with no room blocks.
“From the ridge, you could see the Chuska and Lukachukai ranges to the south,” Bob McBride said.
Bob Bernhart is one of the volunteers for the Hisatsinom program.
“I consider my participation in the survey crew to be one of the highlights of my archaeological experience in Cortez – and not soon forgotten,” he said. “The McBrides help create a real sense of pride in the work we are doing.”
Volunteer Patricia Lacey agreed.
“Bob’s ability to convince landowners of the importance of archaeological survey is legendary in its effectiveness. This outreach work has raised archaeological awareness in a positive way in Montezuma County,” she said.