Laboratory Research and Analysis

Schwartz originally established the techniques of field preparation and laboratory analyses carried out at Arroyo Hondo Pueblo during his several seasons of extensive excavation in the Grand Canyon (Schwartz 2008). These procedures were then built upon and expanded with the addition of new specialized techniques employed during the course of the Arroyo Hondo project. Described below are the ways in which the Arroyo Hondo Pueblo materials were collected, recorded, conserved and analyzed.

Initial test excavations at Arroyo Hondo Pueblo were conducted in July of 1970 to determine the sites potential for a multiyear, multidisciplinary undertaking and to assess the various archaeological procedures that might be employed during such a comprehensive project.  This preliminary fieldwork centered on the northeastern quadrant of the site where two rooms were dug and others cleared. A surface collection was made over the total site and its boundary was recorded. Material recovered from the tests was placed in bags on which was noted their location. The excavated material along with field notes, logs, photographs and drawings were returned to the School’s laboratory where they would be available for preparation and future study. There the artifacts and animal bones were washed, catalogued, and placed in new clean marked bags. The ceramic material was analyzed to provide cultural and chronological information relating to the time of Arroyo Hondo’s settlement and period of occupation. Our assessments of the site were published in the “First Arroyo Hondo Field Report – 1971” (Schwartz 1971a) and used in developing a grant proposal to the National Science Foundation to support the major project. 

Essential to understanding the prehistoric life and environmental change at Arroyo Hondo Pueblo would be detailed knowledge of the current environment around the settlement.  To assemble this information, an ongoing study of the environments immediately surrounding the pueblo was carried out throughout the life of the field project (Kelley 1980). Kelley’s work involved a detailed study of the areas geology, climate, growing season, surface and ground water, soils, vegetation, wild food sources, local architectural materials, and sources for tool making. He produced maps of the geology and soil and recorded data on the fauna and flora. In addition, a systematic botanical collection was made of the regions flora with all specimens identified and eventually permanently stored at the University of New Mexico herbarium.  

To understand the context in which Arroyo Hondo Pueblo originated, grew and declined a survey of the region’s archaeological resources was carried out and reported in an early monograph in the Arroyo Hondo publication series (Dickson 1979). This investigation, assisted by a review of existing archaeological records at the Museum of New Mexico’s Laboratory of Anthropology, identified the location of the area’s prehistoric sites and their relationship to ecological provinces. This work provided a detailed insight into how Arroyo Hondo Pueblo fit into the regional sequence of prehistoric development. Material items recovered during this regional survey, including pottery sherds and stone artifacts, were returned to the School’s laboratory, where they were washed, catalogued and bagged.  Each sherd then was identified as to type with the assistance of project staff member Richard Lang. Eventually all items collected during this part of the project were stored, along with the field log, survey forms and maps, in the School’s Arroyo Hondo Pueblo Repository.   

Excavation covered a wide range of functional and spatial proveniences. Rooms, traditionally the focus of pueblo excavations, provide an important but only partial view of the culture of a community. The goals of the Arroyo Hondo project demanded a broader excavation strategy that included plazas and trash middens in addition to rooms. The sampling design called for the excavation of at least one room in each roomblock and groups of contiguous rooms in five locations. Appendix A in Creamer (1993) describes the excavation strategies and provenience labeling system. A large part of the Component I plaza G was cleared, as were smaller areas in plazas A, D, and K and Component II plaza C. Trash deposits inside and outside the plazas also were tested.  Excavation techniques employed at Arroyo Hondo were designed to maximize the recovery of any artifacts or other clues to the pueblo’s way of life and environment. Nearly all room fill, floor levels and most cultural deposits in plazas and kivas were examined through 1.4 inch mesh screening. Recovery techniques were consistent throughout all field seasons of the excavation and natural preservation was found to be essentially uniform across the site. In recording the material recovered care was taken to preserve the accuracy of vertical and horizontal placement of the artifacts. Detailed architectural measurements, photos and drawings were made of each feature, reinforced by feature descriptions that were refined at the end of each day in the field laboratory before being transferred to the School’s Laboratory.  

During the excavations, as during the survey, all material recovered was placed in paper bags with notation as to the location from which it was recovered. This included raw materials and soil found at the site as well as items made from pottery, stone, wood, fiber and shell. In addition, collections were made of pollen, and other plant and animals remains. At the end of each day these collections were assembled in the field laboratory that was set up adjacent to the pueblo. Crew chiefs responsible for the excavation of specific areas at the site checked the material in relation to their field notes and wrote a narrative log book recording their daily work. All this material was returned to the School’s permanent archaeological laboratory at its Santa Fe campus where it was removed from each bag, washed, catalogued and placed in new storage bags for later analysis.


Approximately 160,000 pieces of pottery, including 28 whole pots, were recovered from the Arroyo Hondo Pueblo excavations. These were washed and numbered in preparation for study. The vast majority of the pottery fragments, approximately 140,000, were of Gray (utility) ware. A sample of over 40,000 was examined for surface treatment and paste characteristics. Whole vessels were further studied for shape and size. From these observations a description and discussion of the utility ware from Arroyo Hondo was prepared by Judith Habicht-Mauche (1993). 

The fragments of 17,700 painted vessels were first sorted and typed by Richard Lang (1975a). Habicht-Mauche followed this work with a detailed and specialized analysis of 40% of this total comprised of 2,543 painted sherds from Component I and 4,163 from Component II. A sample of each ceramic type from each component was subjected to mineralogical and chemical analysis based on 82 thin sections via petrographic microscopy, prepared by Dave Mann of Mann Petrographic in Los Alamos, New Mexico. Bart Olinger of the Los Alamos National Laboratory, who did chemical analyses of ceramic samples using e-ray florescence, did further background work. Based on these and other studies, Habicht-Mauche compiled detailed type description of the pottery from Arroyo Hondo. She then considered the techniques of pottery manufacture and trade. With this background data and analysis she proposed emergence of regional “tribalization” during the growth and occupation of Arroyo Hondo Pueblo (Habicht-Mauche 1993).

Animal Bone

Nearly twenty-five thousand animal bones were recovered from Arroyo Hondo Pueblo. The description and analysis of this collection were reported in the monograph, "The Faunal Remains From Arroyo Hondo Pueblo, New Mexico” by Richard Lang and Arthur Harris (1984). Included in this monograph is detailed description of the technique employed in the analysis (Lang and Harris 1984:18-23). Lang conducted a preliminary examination of the faunal collection and then sent the collection to archaeozoologist Arthur Harris of the University of Texas at El Paso. Harris’ detailed examination of the collection resulted in the identification of 91 species of animals. A further consideration of this identified collection, by Lang, resulted in conclusions relating to the character of Arroyo Hondo’s natural environment and how it changed over the life of the pueblo. Other topics presented in the monograph included wild animals exploitation, animal processing, the animal husbandry of dogs and turkeys, and trade in animals and animal products. 

Bone Artifacts

One thousand and thirty three artifacts made from bone were recovered from excavations at the pueblo. The study of this collection was reported by Marshall Beach and Christopher Causey (1984). Harris identified these items by species that included deer, antelope, elk, wolf, bobcat, fox, rabbits, turkey and turtle, with the vast majority of the bone artifacts made from deer and turkey.  The collection was classified into types and described. In addition, consideration was given to artifact use and methods of manufacture.  


Two hundred and fifty artifacts of shell, primarily beads and pendants, were recovered from the pueblo, and reported on by Tamsin Venn (1984). After laboratory preparation, the collections was examined by Dr. Arthur L. Metcalf of the University of Texas at El Paso who identified some nine species of shell, 70% of which were olive shells. The place of origin for these shells was determined with most coming from the Gulf of California, while five items of black abalone came from the Pacific Coast. After describing each shell artifact type, their distribution within the pueblo was plotted. Referring to previous studies of shell in the prehistoric Southwest, the place of Arroyo Hondo Pueblo in this trade system was projected.

Hide, Fur, and Feathers

During excavations at Arroyo Hondo a comparatively small sample of 47 hides, 25 feather cord textiles and 3 fur-cord textiles was reported by Richard Lang (1984b). Lang wrote, “…the sample offers a unique look at a segment of prehistoric industry that is normally unavailable for scrutiny because of the perishability of the materials used, but that undoubtedly formed a large part of the material output of the Arroyo Hondoans and their Rio Grande contemporaries” (Lang 1984b: 255). All of these items were examined and found to be in generally poor condition because of their fragile nature and the passage of more than six hundred years since they were stored. An analysis was made of the conditions allowing for their preservation, especially compared to that of bone items. Each item was described, including a detailed analysis of the methods of manufacture of the feather and fur textiles.    

Vegetable Material

An extensive assortment of artifacts made from wood, seeds, bark, leaves and plant fibers were retrieved from Arroyo Hondo and reported on by Lang (1986). Found mainly in burial pits, these materials had been protected from decay by being held in moist, acid, and semianaerobic conditions. The collection included 58 specimens of vegetal twine, 2 finds of unspun fiber strands, four bark sheets associated with burials, 12 examples of cloth woven from seed-fibers, and fragments of 24 plaited basketry mats. In addition, a variety of wooden objects, including a decorated twig, recurved bow, probable ax handle, spoon, latticework hoop, juniper seed beans and pendant, were recovered.  Each specimen was cleaned and examined to determine its source. The wooden items were mainly from pinyon, ponderosa and cottonwood. Methods of manufacture were also determined and described. 


The collection of prehistoric pollen from Arroyo Hondo contributed knowledge regarding which plants were consumed as part of the diet of Arroyo Hondo’s residents (Bohrer 1986). Vorsilla Bohrer describes the detailed process of sampling and recovery of the pollen  (Bohrer 1986:192-96). This involved obtaining two pollen columns from plaza C, which was determined to be the most ideal sampling location and the area that best represented the chronology of the pueblo’s entire occupation. Bohrer was asked to visit Arroyo Hondo near the beginning of the June 1972 excavation. She instructed the excavation crew in the best methods for obtaining pollen samples. From the 454 prehistoric pollen samples recovered, 61 were selected for study, along with contemporary pollen samples to be used as a base line. From these collections Bohrer identified the ethnobotanical pollen.

Human Bone

Human bone was handled in the same delicate manner as other excavated objects. The excavation strategy employed at Arroyo Hondo Pueblo made possible the recovery of a fairly large collection of human burials from varied proveniences over the entire site. The description and implication of these skeletons and individuals bones from burials and elsewhere at the pueblo were considered in sensitive detail by Palkovich (1980). During the 1973 and 1974 field seasons, Palkovich personally conducted or supervised the excavation of all skeletal material, from which such information as body orientation, burial context, grave accoutrements, were systematically recorded for each internment. Plazas and some trash deposits proved to be especially productive for a mortuary studies. Because formal, discrete cemeteries are seldom found in prehistoric Pueblo sites, the widespread sampling of proveniences throughout Arroyo Hondo allowed the examination of the distribution and patterning of burials.  Occasionally clusters of interments were found, but these seem to have reflected the suitability of a location for burials, such as a corner of a plaza, rather than the selection of that area as a formal cemetery. The state of skeletal preservation, which varied throughout the site, was also noted for each individual. All skeletal remains and associated artifacts were retained for further analysis. After research on the skeletal remains was completed, all skeletal remains from Arroyo Hondo were repatriated.