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Permanent Home Coming for State's Archaeology

AUGUST 14, 2009

SANTA FE – Governor Bill Richardson today presided over groundbreaking ceremonies for the Center for New Mexico Archaeology, which will be constructed on Caja del Rio Road, off US 599/Santa Fe Bypass, across from the Santa Fe Animal Shelter.

“The irreplaceable artifacts that represent New Mexico’s past, together with the archaeologists who dig them up, will soon have a new home,” said Governor Richardson.  “In a state that depends so much on history and culture to support tourism, education and quality of life, properly safeguarding our past is crucial.”

The 34,000 sq.ft., $6.4 million project will house the state’s Archaeological Research Collections, which are cared for by the Museum of Indian Arts & Culture, as well as the offices and research labs of the state Office of Archaeological Studies.  Construction of the building is expected to take 16 months.

“The Center for New Mexico Archaeology will ensure a permanent home for the state’s archaeological collections and the researchers and staff that support their use in education and research,” explained Stuart Ashman, Secretary of the Department of Cultural Affairs.  “Both the Legislature, led by our Santa Fe lawmakers, and the Governor deserve credit for their foresight in supporting this project.”

The role of the state archaeologists is to conduct archaeological studies in advance of state road and other construction projects, unearthing artifacts that tell the stories of New Mexico’s past. The archaeologists moved into the old St. Vincent Hospital Building in Santa Fe in 1984, and the archaeological collections of the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture were placed in the building’s basement soon after. 

What was meant to be a temporary, five-year stay for both the archaeologists and the artifacts has turned into two-plus decades without a permanent home.  In April 2004, a 50,000-gallon flood ravaged the old hospital’s basement damaging thousands of artifacts in the archaeology collection.  The historical pieces were dried out, cleaned up, re-boxed and moved to another temporary storage facility in downtown Santa Fe. The Office of Archaeological Studies – its staff members and labs – moved from the old hospital building into more temporary quarters in the Bataan Memorial Building and the Halpin Building in spring 2005. 

Recognizing the need for permanent laboratory, office and collections space for archaeology, the Department of Cultural Affairs requested and received $25,000 in planning money during the 2004 Legislative Session.  The department also initiated discussions with the Bureau of Land Management after bureau archaeologists showed support for the project.  Approximately 40 percent of the state’s archaeological collections come from federal lands, and federal agencies such as the BLM are concerned that the artifacts receive proper care. 

In support of the project, the BLM identified a 25-acre parcel along Caja del Rio Road, southwest of Santa Fe, for construction of the new building.  The BLM has agreed to a generous lease transfer agreement with the state.

“The Center for New Mexico Archaeology will be the largest institution of its type in New Mexico and a model for such facilities in the United States,” said Eric Blinman, director of the Office of Archaeological Studies.

The center, says Shelby Tisdale, director of the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture, will serve the state’s museums the way the Smithsonian Institution’s Cultural Resources Center serves the new National Museum of the American Indian.  In addition to providing much needed office, laboratory and storage space for archaeology, the center will be the nucleus of an offsite location campus for many of the state museum collections.  This should eliminate the need to build expensive additions to in-town museums, like the Museum of International Folk Art, and will free-up space for enhanced exhibitions and public programs.