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An independent monthly newspaper serving the community since 1988

Zamani friends

Jesse Bowen with Zamani friends

Zamani township house

Housing foundations begin—includes Eli, Jesse, and Bryan Bowen with Zamani workers

Sustainable build in South Africa has local connection

—Bunny Bowen

At the mention of South Africa, what comes to mind? Wildlife safaris? Apartheid? Nelson Mandela? Aids? Diamonds? Ladysmith Black Mambazo? Most Americans would admit to a mixture of positive and negative images of this amazing country, yet most of us probably know very little about it.

Former Placitas resident Bryan Bowen learned a great deal about a small part of South Africa last December, when he took his wife and two young sons to volunteer for a charity built in Zamani Township, near the small rural town of Memel in the Drakensberg Mountains.

Retired UN diplomats Steven Ablondi and Cindy Burns have begun a project there which unites Memel locals, residents of the Township of Zamani, and volunteers from around the world to build pocket neighborhoods with sustainable, affordable homes constructed from local materials in a climate with a “real winter.” Most people now live in tiny sheet-metal structures without insulation, plumbing, or electricity. Few make a livable wage.

Drawing from his experience as an architect specializing in cohousing, Bryan designed a model community of compounds, each with a central common house where neighbors could meet to share cooking, laundry, and shower facilities, as well as other amenities. Smaller basic, but well-insulated, houses will surround each common house. Roofs will direct rainwater (about a meter per year) to gardens. As the rammed earth walls go up, Zamani builders will learn new skills so that the building process can continue throughout the rest of the Township.

Bryan will be sharing much more about Zamani on July 6, at 4:00 p.m., at Las Placitas Presbyterian Church. The public is invited to come and learn how they might help the people of Zamani make better lives for themselves and their children.

Tax deductible donations to the project can be made through An individual house can be built for about $7,000 dollars, but gifts at any level are welcome.

For more information, contact

NM’s largest solar power plant

—Karin Stangle

On June 5, New Mexico State Land Commissioner Ray Powell announced that First Solar, Inc. would soon begin construction on the state’s largest solar power plant, to be located on State Trust Land in Luna County.

This fifty-megawatt solar power project will provide about three hundred jobs during the construction phase, which is a huge boost to New Mexico’s ailing construction industry, and it will provide a constant stream of revenue for our public schools, universities, and hospitals, while providing clean, efficient solar power to El Paso Electric service territory customers.

Lease payments could generate as much as forty million dollars for state land trust beneficiaries over the forty-year term of the lease.

For more information, call 699-1018.

Xeriscape gardening

—Robert P. Nankin

Backed by popular demand, the Esther Bone Memorial Library will once again offer a program on the Rio Rancho WaterWise Demonstration Xeriscape Garden. This program will take place on July 11, at 6:30 p.m. The lecture and slide demonstration will begin in the library’s program room. A tour of the adjacent garden will follow. This program is free, and no prior sign-ups are required. The Esther Bone Memorial Library is located at 950 Pinetree Rd. SE in Rio Rancho.

At the program, participants will learn the history and be given a tour of the WaterWise Xeriscape Garden. For more information, call the library at 891-5012, and select option 3.

Forest announces release of new Motor Vehicle Use Map

U.S. Forest Service

The Santa Fe National Forest has released a Motor Vehicle Use Map that shows the public where it is legal to drive motorized vehicles on the forest. The map is a result of work that began over six years ago in response to National Guidelines known as the 2005 Travel Management Rule, requiring all national forests in the country to evaluate their motorized system of roads and trails. 

“After years of extensive analysis and public involvement, the Motor Vehicle Use Map (MVUM) displays the forest’s designated network of roads and trails for public motor vehicle use, showing the public where they can legally ride,” said Bruce Hill, spokesperson for the Santa Fe National Forest. “The map is free to the public.”   

The MVUM may be republished annually as system roads open, so it is important that the public has the most current version when driving on the National Forest. More information, digital MVUMs, and other travel aids are available at most local forest offices or at:

Pre-fire Edwards Chert artifacts

Post-fire Edwards Chert artifacts

Puffed obsidian projectile point

Fire effects on the archaeological record

—Matthew J. Barbour, Manager, Jemez Historic Site

The wildfires of today are unlike those that generally existed up until the beginning of the twentieth century. Prior to the 1900s, fuel breaks and other organized efforts to manage our timber resources did not exist. As a result, fires were more frequent and widespread. However, because of the frequent occurrence of wildfires and their geographically larger extent, combustible materials rarely accumulated. As our ability to suppress fire grew, the frequency and size of fires diminished. Changes to the forest ecosystem have been exacerbated by clear cutting and overgrazing. In the intervening years, our forests have accumulated large quantities of highly flammable fuel and very dense stands of much smaller trees.

In the American Southwest, this problem has been further exacerbated by the arid climate. This environment slows decomposition, allowing the material to stay dry for a longer period of time. Drought and insect plagues (e.g. bark beetles) have also strained the health of our forested regions. When a fire does strike in the American Southwest today, this fire often burns much hotter and for a longer duration than those seen more than a hundred years ago.

This summer, fire season is in full effect throughout New Mexico. Numerous wildfires have already hit the north-central and southwest portions of the state. Many of these have also been in areas known to contain high densities of archaeological resources.

The impact of fires on the archaeological record varies depending on the type of archaeological materials found on the site, the distribution of fuel (i.e. wood), and the intensity at which the fire burns. Unfortunately, the effects of wildfires on cultural resources are frequently significant.

The most obvious impacts are upon structural elements. Wooden structures, such as Native American wickiups or Euroamerican log cabins, can be destroyed completely in a blaze. Even those structures built primarily of stone or adobe often incorporate wooden elements, in their roof or for support. These too may be lost in the flames.

Adobe and stone do not burn, but are also not immune to the effects of fire. A fire of significant intensity can cause adobe to oxidize and harden, transforming it from its original state within the archaeological record. Stone can spall and crack. These effects can undermine structural integrity and cause walls to collapse.

Flaked and ground stone objects are similarly affected. While the exact temperature fluctuation necessary to cause spalling or cracking is dependent on a number of factors, such as the type of stone exposed to the fire, the impact on the archaeological record can be devastating.

An experiment by this author (Barbour 2009) conducted in 2008 examined the impacts of woodland fire on a collection of Edwards Chert artifacts. Pre- and post-fire analyses of the flaked stone revealed two very different assemblages. Pre-fire analysis depicted an assemblage composed of whole core flakes, multi- and uni-directional cores, and early stage bifaces, whereas the post-fire documentation revealed a collection consisting almost exclusively of artifacts classified as angular debris and potlid fractures. The number of artifacts also dramatically changed. There were 22 Edwards Chert artifacts before the fire started and 159 at the fire’s conclusion.

Obsidian (technically not stone but a volcanic glass) is frequently found in archaeological sites due to its use in flintknapped items such as arrowheads. The composition of obsidian can cause it to suffer considerable fire damage. The heat from a fire will cause obsidian to hydrate, or take on water. If the intensity and duration of this fire is extensive enough, this hydration process will transform the material into perlite, which then expands due its water content. The end result is the “puffing” of the obsidian artifact into something that is both different in composition and dimension when compared to the original artifact.

Non-volcanic glass does not puff, but melts, causing bottle and glassware artifacts to lose their original morphology. Early plastics and rubbers often burn. However, other historic materials are often quite resilient. Because of their industrial manufacture at high temperatures, many metal artifacts and whiteware ceramics withstand all but the most intense of burns, with most exhibiting only light crazing of their enamel paints or glazes and the occasional spall.

Surprisingly, Native American ceramics are often equally as resilient. A 1992 study (Lentz et al. 1996) of the Henry Fire in the Jemez Mountains found that while oxidation and potlidding occurred on a substantial number of sherds, the most common impact was sooting which washed off after a couple rainfalls. Like many Euroamerican artifacts, Native American ceramic items are exposed to extreme heat during manufacture and often re-exposed to these high temperatures during their use life. As result, most of these materials are durable enough to withstand the fluctuations in temperature during a wild fire

Fires have raged across woodland settings since the dawn of antiquity, likely resulting in natural changes to the archaeological record over time. As a consequence, it could be tempting to discount surface assemblages as having already been irrevocably changed by fire and therefore inadequate for the study of past behaviors. However, in many instances, surface assemblages are one of the most robust data sets that archaeologists have to go on, especially when making recommendations of eligibility to the National Register of Historic Places.

While wildfires are natural, fire suppression in the twentieth century has made the fires of the twenty-first century more intense and longer in duration than those that existed in prehistory. It is likely that higher temperatures and longer durations will continue to change the archaeological record. Our understanding of the past is a result of this changing record.

Every fire is unique and potentially harmful. Fire’s effects on the archaeological record are still poorly recognized. It is the author’s hope that further study of wildfires and the processes that lead to the current state of the archaeological record will enable members of the archaeological community to better understand the past and perhaps find a more elegant means to preserve it.

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