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FARMINGTON — After spending years unearthing ancient ruins that suggest Farmington once served as an epicenter for early Puebloan society, the leader of the San Juan College archaeology field school will discuss her team’s findings later this week.

Linda Wheelbarger will speak about the Totah Archaeological Project on Thursday, as part of the college's Broadening Horizons lecture series. The presentation will be free and open to the public.

While excavating for more than a decade on Tommy Bolack’s B-Square Ranch just south of Farmington, Wheelbarger and college students found multiple sites dating as far back as A.D. 850. Discoveries include a great kiva, a circular space Wheelbarger said was likely used for rituals and religious purposes. The structure measures about 60 feet in diameter, slightly larger than the famous example at Aztec Ruins National Monument.

Located near the confluence of the Animas and La Plata rivers, Wheelbarger said the ruins found at B-Square Ranch rival some of the more well-known sites in the Four Corners when it comes their age and intricacy.

“In general, people know about Chaco Canyon, Mesa Verde and Aztec Ruins,” Wheelbarger said. “But here in Farmington three rivers come together. This had to have been an important place.”

The project’s findings were the result of a collaboration between the college and Bolack. An amateur archaeologist, Bolack proposed establishing a field school on his 12,000-acre property. Wheelbarger led the initial team of students in 1999 and discovered the first site on a hunch from Bolack. After bulldozing through 7 feet of river-side deposit, the group found evidence of ancient architecture.

“I always knew something was there,” Bolack said. “Nobody ever thought to look that deep.”

Bolack said he hopes the discoveries will give credence to his theory that Puebloan people first thrived on the banks of Farmington’s rivers before migrating south. He said his property likely contains many more sites that have periodic flooding has buried over the years.

Wheelbarger’s lecture will discuss the college's summer field school and the relevance of the team's discoveries. Most of her students are from out-of-state, but, she said, finding ruins so close to Farmington might inspire more locals to pursue archaeology.

“It’s a town now, and a lot of stuff has been covered up,” she said. “But we’re starting to learn it was a little more important than what we thought in the past.”

Brett Berntsen covers government for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4606.

If you go

What: "Totah Archaeological Project" presentation

When: 7 p.m. Thursday

Where: Little Theatre at San Juan College, 4601 College Blvd.

More info: Contact the college Box Office at 505-566-3430.

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