Archaeology group seeks to acquire Chacoan site

The Archaeological Conservancy is working to acquire a 40-acre site north of Farmington called the Holmes Group site

Hannah Grover
Pottery sherds are seen at the Holmes Group site in this undated courtesy image.

FARMINGTON — While there are dozens of Chacoan sites in San Juan County's La Plata Valley, one stands out because of its well-preserved nature.

Many archaeologists consider the Holmes Group site to be the most intact of all of the Chaco sites in the La Plata Valley, said Jim Walker, the Southwest Regional Director of the Archaeological Conservancy.

The Archaeological Conservancy is working to acquire the 40-acre site north of Farmington, which includes nearly 130 identified surface features. The group is raising $25,000 for the purchase by crowdfunding through a page on Generosity by Indiegogo. They raised about $5,400 as of this afternoon.

The site's previous owners were not willing to sell the land, but the conservancy now has the opportunity to purchase it because the former owner's children have listed it for sale with Coldwell Banker Cornerstone.

Archaeologists examine the Holmes Group site in this undated courtesy photo.

The conservancy acquires properties throughout the country. It currently owns two Chacoan outlier sites in San Juan County, including one near Flora Vista and another north of Chaco Culture National Historical Park.

"The more we learn about the relationship and the more we understand the outliers ... the more questions remain and new questions appear," Walker said.

Walker said there are probably about 150 outliers outside of Chaco Canyon. These outliers, which were once connected by a road, include about a dozen major sites in the La Plata Valley, as well as sites like Salmon and Aztec ruins.

Walker, who has spent decades visiting archaeological sites, said the Holmes Group site is special.

A LiDar image of the Holmes Group site shows a circular swale surrounding the two great houses.

One of its unique features is a circular swale — a depression in the ground between ridges — around two great houses. Walker said this swale has a 1,000-foot diameter and is approximately 30 feet wide and 8 to 12 inches deep.

While someone walking the site would not be able to see the swale, it is visible in aerial and LiDAR images.

"We have no idea what its function was," Walker said.

Walker's thoughts after seeing the site echoed the reaction of archaeologist Larry Baker, director of Salmon Ruins Museum, when he visited the site about 30 years ago while surveying a well site on nearby Bureau of Land Management property.

“I wished I could have spent longer there,” Baker said. “It is a spectacular complex.”

Archaeologists say studying outliers could help them learn more about Chaco Canyon.

"We’re really taking a broader look at outliers currently to really understand the Chaco phenomenon," Baker said.

While some outliers are on federal land, others, such as the Holmes Group site, are on private land.

"There could be keys to understanding the entire system that could be locked up in these privately-owned sites," Walker said.

Some of these keys could have been lost through looting and natural deterioration. And even archaeological work can be a destructive process.

"It’s a set of clues that will never be in the same order again," Walker said.

Hannah Grover covers Aztec and Bloomfield, as well as general news, for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652.