Preservation Matters


In this issue of El Palacio, we present articles exploring archaeology, conservation, and preservation. The earliest issues of the magazine were heavily focused on these topics, so as we approach our 100th anniversary, it seems appropriate to honor and acknowledge our own past as a periodical with this special issue.

New Mexico is well known as the Land of Enchantment, but for many people, it is the Land of Archaeological Seduction. The past has not disappeared from the surface here; it literally litters the ground beneath our feet. Tangible evidence ranges from delicate scatters of lithic debitage and sturdy sherds of pottery to the citadels of Chaco Canyon. Our arid environment has done much preservation work for us, which is a blessing and a challenge. What is easy to see and appreciate is also alarmingly easy to abuse.

So we are grateful to those who have dedicated their lives to the careful study, storage, conservation, and preservation of these wonders. In the wake of the passing of archaeological giant Linda Cordell, Maxine McBrinn generously shares her memories of Linda in this issue, aptly noting, “Linda was a tiny woman but with a huge presence.” She is deeply missed by our museum and archaeological community.

Matthew Barbour and Donald Tatum’s research notes remind us of the tragedy of Bosque Redondo. Recent work by the New Mexico Office of Archaeological Studies sheds new light on the place called Hweeldi, the Place of Suffering, and shows that the archaeological potential of site investigation, new and old, is ongoing. Frances Levine also explores the relationship between Native Americans and archaeology as she reflects on the 1999 Pecos Pueblo repatriation.

The interview with Michael Bremer looks at how volunteer site stewards are helping to preserve our past. Jakob William Sedig’s article describes how stewardship, ownership, and the protection afforded by methods as simple as fences has prevented the wholesale looting of Woodrow Ruin, making it the best-preserved Mimbres site in the Southwest.

Jason Shapiro’s study of the life of anthropologist Sylvanus Morley addresses professional morality of another sort. Morley’s World War Ispying activities under the guise of science are the subject of ongoing concern and debate.

In their essays, Dody Fugate and Chris Merriman explore the differences between professionals, avocationals, and collectors. Southwest archaeological aficionados may be reminded of Richard Wetherill, whose contributions to the records have been alternately reviled and admired. The message in the end is to value what we have, no matter how acquired, but also to respect how times and practices have changed. Now we know better: tread lightly, leave no trace, look but don’t touch.

Whether art or artifact, once an object enters our collections, it must be preserved and, when appropriate, conserved. Laura Addison and Crista Pack share an intriguing tale of how to rescue great works of art, which in this case involved restoring more than 26,645 paper butterflies to their original glory with a little help from Ohori’s dark-roast coffee. Penelope Hunter-Stiebel tells the story of a rare and precious intact basket that held salt. Investigations by our conservation lab—the CSIgang of our museum world—will reveal even more: how old is it, and where did the salt originate?

And speaking of preservation, El Palacio will celebrate its 100th anniversary in November. As we pondered ways to mark this occasion, the El Pal team ultimately chose to invest in the digitization of our archives. Soon, 100 years of stories as recorded in the pages of the magazine will be online and free to scholars, students, and friends. Forever and ever, amen.