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High-tech meets old world in upcoming Santa Fe Found exhibit

 When Santa Fe Found: Fragments of Time opened at the New Mexico History Museum on November 20, futuristic technologies gave visitors new, close-up views of the past.

Stephen Post, co-curator of the exhibit, worked with student interns from New Mexico Highlands University and former Los Alamos National Laboratory scientists brought on board by the Department of Cultural Affairs to devise new ways to present old objects, including the four-hundred-year-old Palace of the Governors.

Santa Fe Found: Fragments of Time combines historical documents with archaeological artifacts from several sites of early Spanish colonists to explore the founding of La Villa Real de Santa Fé, now celebrating its four-hundredth birthday. Set appropriately in the Palace of the Governors, where colonists established their first government, the exhibit was curated by Post and Josef Diaz of the New Mexico History Museum.

Some of the artifacts are too fragile for long-term exhibition; others, like the Palace, no longer exist in their original form. That's where technology comes in.

Using a portable laser scanner, Ralph Chapman and David Modl of New Mexico Virtualization LLC are producing a 3-D model of the oldest radiocarbon-dated dart point from Santa Fe—a small artifact from New Mexico's indigenous people that is more than seven thousand years old. The virtual model—an enlarged, rotating, three-dimensional image—will be displayed with the actual dart point.

New Mexico Virtualization was formed last year by Chapman, former head of the Idaho Virtualization Lab, and two former Los Alamos Visualization Scientists, Modl and Steve Smith. The group had received a 2009 Venture Acceleration Fund grant from Los Alamos National Laboratory to develop their business; the grant supports the museum collaboration.

"It has been four years since DCA received funding to position New Mexico as an international center for museum technology, and it's gratifying to see the convergence of Highlands students, museums, and private companies," said Mimi Roberts, DCA director for media projects. "Visitors who come to see Santa Fe Found are in for a special treat."

The little basalt dart point that New Mexico Virtualization worked with will be on public view for the first time since it was discovered in 1995 by Post, deputy director of the New Mexico Office of Archaeological Studies. During the excavation of a much later hunter-gatherer campsite near NM 599, Post became intrigued by a dark streak in the bank of an arroyo and decided to investigate. Older points have been found outside the city, including Paleo-Indian sites in Santa Fe County that may date to 8,500 or nine thousand years old. This one, however, comes from the oldest radiocarbon-dated site found so far within city limits—a discovery that involved hand-removal of fourteen metric tons of dirt.

Another artifact—a gold earring found during the excavation of the Sánchez Site near El Rancho de las Golondrinas—will be on virtual display only. (The actual earring is featured above in a photograph by Blair Clark, New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs.)

"It's precious and can't be put on loan for eighteen months," Post said. "This is a way museums can bring things to people."

The exhibit will also feature an interactive 3-D model of the seventeenth-century Palace of the Governors created by students Jessica Power and Daniel Atencio from the Media Arts Program at Highlands. The project is part of a DCA partnership that prepares students for careers as multimedia professionals in museums.

Post said the project was extremely challenging and time-consuming because of sparse information about the Palace during the seventeenth century. The model is a visual representation based on data gathered during several archaeological excavations in the building, as well as historical documents.

"No one knows what the original Palace looked like in the seventeenth century," he said. "But we're taking people as far back in the past as we can with this virtual model."

The New Mexico History Museum is the newest addition to a campus that includes the Palace of the Governors, the oldest continuously occupied public building in the United States; Fray Angélico Chávez History Library; Palace of the Governors Photo Archives; the Press at the Palace of the Governors; and the Native American Artisans Program. The New Mexico History Museum/Palace of the Governors is a division of the Department of Cultural Affairs. For more information, visit nmhistorymuseum.org.

 

     

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