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The La Plata Valley in northwestern New Mexico was an ever-changing, well-populated place between AD 500 and 1300. Its permanent stream, rich soils, and favorable seasons made it an oasis. In what has been the largest highway archaeological project in New Mexico to date, 80 sites were studied between 1988-1991. Excavation of 48 pithouses or ceremonial rooms, and 65 surface rooms revealed that the river environment provided inhabitants with an ample food supply and good health.

Influence from people living in the Chaco Valley, more than 60 miles to the south, is seen in larger structures called Great Houses, recognized by their distinctive architecture and ceremonial kivas. These structures were probably focal points for the social and political life of surrounding people.

The presence of pottery imported from northern Arizona, southeastern Utah, and central New Mexico, as well as small quantities of obsidian, turquoise, and marine shell suggests valley residents were connected to a vast trade network.
click to view artifacts

Prehistoric habitation and modern agriculture are found side by side in the La Plata Valley, with its permanent stream and arable farmland. Click to learn more.

This intact pit structure dates to the eleventh century and has a full suite of storage, heating, and ventilation features.