Class takes over dig site

Freedom New Mexico: Eric Butler Students from Eastern New Mexico University work at a dig site that had been abandoned for the past 40 years. The students were part of a summer field class held at Blackwater Draw which ended on Friday.

By Eric Butler: Freedom New Mexico

One dig site at Blackwater Draw, for all anybody knows, might have been a gold mine for a graduate student back in the 1960s.

But Alberto Isequilla didn’t get everything out of the pit he started digging. Now, a new generation of anthropology students at Eastern New Mexico University are picking up where Isaquira left off, 40 years ago.

At a level where the artifacts are believed to represent life in the area 10,000 years ago, students have been carefully unearthing the skeleton of a bison — among other items.

As part of a summer class offered at the Portales-based university, Erica Govich and Lisa Sparks along with 16 other students first moved a large quantity of sand that had built up over the pit.

“It was very hard and hot for them — they probably hated us for it,” admitted site archeologist George Crawford.

However, Govich and Sparks saw their hard work pay off when more careful excavation took place about 10 to 15 feet below the current terrain level.

The bones they discovered are believed to be from a Pleistocene-age bison about a third larger than current bison.

“It was interesting because we saw the top of it, so we knew it was a bone – we just didn’t know what it was,” said Govich, 25, a graduate student who did her undergraduate work at Miami (Ohio.). “We kept going deeper and deeper and she (Sparks) found the hoof about two days ago.

“That was really exciting because you could actually see what it was,” Govich added.

Blackwater Draw, located about seven miles northeast of Portales and eight miles south of Clovis, is most notable for the discovery of spearpoints there in 1929 which came to be dubbed Clovis points.

The points were thought to belong to a culture of people who lived as long as 13,000 years ago. They are also responsible for the belief that this was evidence of the oldest group of humans in North America, called the “Clovis First” theory, which has been a debate-starter among archeologists ever since.

Fame about the site, at least in those circles, likely helped draw Argentinian-born Isequilla to Blackwater Draw in 1967. The University of Paris graduate student, at the time, worked sporadically digging a pit over the next two years.

“He spent about two-and-a-half field seasons here, but ended up abandoning the site. There’s no report or published data,” said Dr. David Kilby, an anthropology professor at ENMU. “He never finished the dissertation which was the goal of the work. The field notes have sort of disappeared along with him.

Isequilla is believed to be living in France, possibly as an art dealer, although efforts by Kilby and others at Eastern have been fruitless.

“He was planning on coming back; it just never happened. Since that time, this has been one of the open ends in the history of Blackwater Draw,” Kilby said. “We have this depression out here and a hole that he filled in with sand. No one knows, for sure, exactly what he excavated, how deep they got or what the results were.”

Although Isequilla never produced a graduate-level paper to summarize his work at Blackwater Draw, successors like Doug Sain, 29, are hoping to accomplish that goal using the same excavation site.

Clovis blades and blade technology is the subject of Sain’s masters thesis at ENMU.

“I’ve been interested in Clovis and Clovis-lithic technology for probably five or six years now,” said Sain, who got his bachelor’s degree at Appalachian State in North Carolina. “I found Eastern on-line and it looked really interesting. Anytime you think of Clovis culture, the Blackwater Draw site comes to mind.

“Anytime you get to do excavation at this site is really, really cool,” he added.

The summer class offically wrapped up on Friday.

Kilby said plastic will be pulled over the large pit in order to protect the site from the elements.

“We intend to continue this for the next few years. We’re only limited because they’re doing it as part of a class, Crawford said. “We’re gonna save this for next summer when we have a long term and a lot of students.”