Current Projects

Transforming Archaeology through Community-Based Learning and Collaborative Research at Ranchos de Taos, New Mexico

Sunday Eiselt and Mike Adler

Community-based research and education has become a national and international movement that acknowledges the role of indigenous or local input in the creation of projects and research design. With this in mind, SMU-in-Taos and the SMU Anthropology department have initiated the first community-based archaeology field school in the American Southwest. This field school focuses on the Ranchos de Taos Plaza and surrounding Hispano villages of the Taos region. More and more, these communities are setting the agenda for archeological research in ways that resonate with cutting-edge theoretical and methodological initiatives. Our research, which was developed with significant community input, focuses on the multi-ethnic history and evolution of Hispano Penitente Society including the spiritual ecology of penitentism, the role of women in this largely male-dominated confraternity, and issues of power and identity with reference to Roman Catholic authorities and surrounding Indian tribes. The Ranchos de Taos community will use this research to promote traditional values and highlight the heritage and economic concerns of a village that is struggling with the onslaught of tourism and the rapid gentrification of village life.

Our program at SMU-in-Taos places students in the middle of a living traditional village for the purposes of research and education. They not only excavate in the shadow of the historic Saint Francis de Asisi Church on the plaza, but also in the homes and backyards of the villagers. They interact with community members on a daily basis and receive blessings and instruction in traditional culture by native scholars and village leaders. This includes participation in communal activities such as the annual plastering of the church and fiesta preparations. These activities ensure that students understand the scientific and social value of archaeology and the benefits of working with local communities. Graduate students and undergraduate honors students participate in scientific research and community outreach projects, which build on mutual interests and the synergy it creates. In 2007, we offered scholarships and tuition for two Taos Pueblo high school students to participate in the field school, and we are currently expanding our donor base to support involvement of local Hispanic youth in this program.