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Blackwater Draw Locality 1, New Mexico

New Mexico Archaeology


Blackwater Draw, Locality 1

An overview of the site of Blackwater Draw, Locality 1, looking southwest

Ed Nellis, photographer

Eleven thousand years ago, a small spring-fed lake or marsh near what is now Portales, New Mexico was populated with extinct forms of elephant, wolf, bison and horse, and the people who hunted them. At Blackwater Draw, generations of the earliest occupants of the New World lived, creating a layer cake of human settlement debris including Clovis (radiocarbon dated between 11,600-11,000 years before the present), Folsom (10,800-10,000 years BP), Portales (9,800-8,000 years BP), and Archaic (7,000-5,000 years BP) period occupations.

History of Blackwater Draw Excavations

Evidence of the earliest occupation at what was to be known as the Blackwater Draw site was sent to the Smithsonian Institution in 1929; but full-scale excavation didn't happen until 1932, after the New Mexico roads department began quarrying in the neighborhood. Edgar B. Howard of the University of Pennsylvania Museum conducted the first excavations there between 1932-33, but he was hardly the last.

Since then, excavators have included many of the best archaeologists in the New World. John L. Cotter, E. H. Sellards and Glen Evans, A.E. Dittert and Fred Wendorf, Arthur Jelinek, James Hester and Jerry Harbour, Vance Haynes, William King, Jack Cunningham and George Agogino all worked at Blackwater Draw, sometimes ahead of the sporadic gravel mining operations, sometimes not. Finally, in 1978, the site was bought by Eastern New Mexico University, who operate a small onsite facility and a separate museum, and to this day conduct archaeological investigations.

Visiting Blackwater Draw

Visiting the site is an experience not to be missed. In the intervening millennia since the prehistoric occupations of the site, the climate has dried out, and the remnants of the site now lie 15 feet and more below the modern surface. You enter the site from the east and wander down along a self-guided path into the depths of the former quarry operations. A large windowed shed protects the past and current excavations; and a smaller shed protects a Clovis-period hand-dug well, one of the earliest water control systems in the New World; and one of at least twenty total wells on site, mostly dated to the Archaic.

The Blackwater Draw Museum website at Eastern New Mexico University has one of the best public programs describing any archaeological site I've seen. Go see their Blackwater Draw web site for more information and pictures of one of the most important Paleoindian archaeological sites in the Americas.

Most recently, George Crawford has started a blog describing past research at Blackwater Draw.


This article is a part of the About.com Guide to Archaic Period and Clovis and part of the Dictionary of Archaeology.

Agogino, George A., David K. Patterson, and Deborah E. Patterson 1976 Blackwater Draw Locality No. 1, South Bank: Report of the summer of 1974. Plains Anthropologist 21(73, pt. 1):213-224.

Boldurian, Anthony T. 2008 Clovis Type-Site, Blackwater Draw, New Mexico: A History, 1929-2009. North American Archaeologist 29(1):65-89.

Boldurian, Anthony T. 1991 Folsom mobility and organization of lithic technology: A view from Blackwater Draw, New Mexico. Plains Anthropologist 36(137):281-295.

Boldurian, Anthony T. 1990 Lithic technology at the Mitchell locality of Blackwater draw: A stratified Folsom site in eastern New Mexico. Memoir 24, Plains Anthropologist 35(130):1-105.

Evans, Glen L. 1951 Prehistoric Wells in eastern New Mexico. American Antiquity 17(1):1-9.

Meltzer, David J. and Michael B. Collins 1987 Prehistoric water wells on the Southern High Plains: Clues to Altithermal climate. Journal of Field Archaeology 149-28.

Seebach, John D. 2002 Stratigraphy and Bonebed Taphonomy at Blackwater Draw Locality No. 1 during the Middle Holocene (Altithermal). Plains Anthropologist 47(183):339-358.

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