Matthew Liebmann Presents on Native American Involvment in Archaeology

With anecdotes about bobcats and New Mexican geography, Matthew Liebmann, Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Harvard University, offered students a lens into cultural patrimony in New Mexico on Friday, November 11.

Liebmann’s presentation centered on the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, an uprising during which several native Pueblos in Santa Fe, N.M., rebelled against Spanish colonists.

Liebmann said, “I am especially interested in when the Pueblos rose up in rebellions and kicked the Spaniards out. It’s called the Pueblo Revolt of 1680.”

The Pueblos occupied Astialakwa, one of the four sites Liebmann studied, for eight months during the intermittent period of resistance. Many ruins of constructions still remain in Astialakwa, fitting Liebmann’s unique non-invasive method of archeology.

In his study of the Pueblo of Jemez, Liebmann addressed the way in which native involvement in archaeological investigations has changed over the years.

In 1990, the federal government passed the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), which mandated the return of cultural items held by museums or Federal agencies to native populations.

Liebmann helped facilitate the repatriation of artifacts from Harvard University’s Peabody Museum to the Pueblo Jemez.

Liebmann opened his lecture by asking the audience to consider Native American involvement in archaeological investigations.

“Native Americans weren’t taking part in a lot of the archeology going on in [the Americas],” he added. “I was stepping into a radical shift in archaeology from the previous century, in which Native Americans were [not participating] to a time where the law mandated more interactions with tribes.”

Liebmann noted a shift in this attitude with regard to his research in Jemez, as locals later came to him with an active interest in excavating at the site.

The Jemez Pueblos had wanted to conduct a study about a site called Valles Caldera in New Mexico. The Pueblos requested that Liebmann head the excavations.

“The [Pueblos] came to me because they were concerned about this area called Valles Caldera. [They wanted me to] document their relationship over time with the land,” said Liebmann.

“It was hard to prove because there is not much archeology [in Valles Caldera]. [The Pueblos] went there to hunt. They were in and out of there frequently, but not long enough to [make] a heavy footprint in the region.”

Liebmann found that the Jemez citizens’ use of obsidian, a volcanic glass, which they used to make arrowheads and knives, linked them to the Valles Caldera region.

He tracked the origins of the obsidian used by the Pueblos using metric fluorescence, an archaeological technique . According to Liebmann, 70 percent of the obsidian the Pueblos used was from Valles Caldrera, which suggests a definitive link between the presence of the ancient peoples at the two sites.

Lauren Montieth ’14, an attendee at Liebmann’s presentation, said, “I thought it was very noble of [Liebmann] to involve the Native peoples and not dig up the remains.”

Lazola Nyamakazi ’13 added, “It was really interesting because he spoke about something that I knew nothing about. I learned quite a lot from him.”

“My favorite part was when he told us a really funny story about when he encountered a mountain lion while he was camping in the mountains,” continued Nyamakazi.

In the spring of 2012, the University of Arizona Press will publish Liebmann’s most recent book on this topic, titled “Revolt: An Archaeological History of Pueblo Resistance and Revitalization in 17th Century New Mexico.”

Liebmann is the first speaker in a 2011-2012 series titled “Viewpoints in Archaeology” hosted by the Andover Archaeology and History Club. Funding for the speaker series was provided by the Office of the Dean of Studies.