Discovering Piedras Marcadas was like finding Machu Picchu in your backyard. I’ve written about Albuquerque’s new Open Space Visitors Center before, but until this past weekend I had no idea they protected treasures like this pueblo as well.
A part of the Petroglyph National Monument, Piedras Marcadas or Marked Stones, was a pueblo occupied between AD 1300 and the mid-1500’s. With three main multi-storied structures and over 1,000 rooms, it is the largest remaining intact pueblo in the middle Rio Grande Valley.
If the pueblo was so large, why haven’t we seen ruins, or why hasn’t it been reconstructed like the pueblo at Coronado State Monument? The answer is part luck and part preservation. In the 1940s and 1950s archaeologists were everywhere in the Rio Grande Valley, digging and hauling artifacts away to museums. At that time Piedras Marcadas was on private land, and the site had only a small home.
By the early 1980s the landowners wanted to develop the land for condominiums. In a forced move, the city purchased the property for open space. Due to the religious connection between the ancient residents and the rich concentrations of petroglyphs on West Mesa, the pueblo was included in the Petroglyph National Monument’s boundaries.
To provide an introduction to the tour, city archaeologist Matt Schmader gave a 45-minute talk on the history of the terrain and the people who inhabited it. We learned paleo-Indians wandered our land as early as 12,000 BP. Before Coronado and his depredations, dozens of pueblos rimmed the Rio Grande.
Our visit was a rare privilege. The location is fenced and locked and open only for special events such as the talk and tour organized by the Visitors Center. As we plowed through a crop of dead weeds, we made our way to the first of three mounds. No foliage grew there. Under a layer of sand, the old adobe walls provide an obstruction to growth. Pot shards, grinding tools, and flint knapped chert covered the ground.
As we walked from area to area, Schmader fielded questions and pointed out exceptional examples of different types of pottery. A frantic killdeer mother scurried this way and that, pretending a broken wing to lure us away from her clutch of four speckled eggs. A metate, abandoned a century ago, rested near a patch of buffalo gourd.
Out of respect for today’s Tiwa people, who are direct descendents of the ancient villagers, new non-invasive methods using electrical current are being used to delineate structures. It is a work in progress. Piedras Marcardas will never be uncovered using the old methods of excavation. It will sleep peacefully under its blanket of sand, safe for further generations.
City of Albuquerque Open Space Visitor Center
6500 Coors Blvd NW
Between Montano Blvd. and Paseo del Norte at the end of Bosque Meadows Rd