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Archaeology and History Sites in New Mexico

Aztec Ruins National Monument

Although misleadingly named – the ruin has nothing to do with the Aztecs of Mesoamerica – this national monument does encompass the archaeological remains of a prehistoric pre-Columbian community. It was here that an Ancestral Puebloan society established their settlement in the 12th century. Over 400 masonry ruins can still be seen today. Some parts, such as the Great Kiva, are partially reconstructed. The site is part of the Chaco Culture UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Bandelier National Monument

Named for the anthropologist Adolph Bandelier, this national monument encompasses a prehistoric settlement inhabited by Ancestral Puebloan communities between the 12th and 16th centuries. As well as the domestic dwellings, the site features kivas (ceremonial sites) and a range of petroglyphs and pictographs, testifying to different facets of their culture. Spanish colonialists moved into the area in the 18th century, discovering the remarkable deserted structures which soon attracted the interest of antiquarians.

Chaco Canyon National Heritage Park

One of the most famous archaeological sites in the American Southwest, Chaco Canyon National Historical Park encompasses a wealth of prehistoric settlements and other structures. Between the 9th and 13th centuries a settlement flourished here, becoming home to thousands of people, making it one of the largest urban environments in the prehistoric Americas. Archaeastronomers have suggested that significant astronomical alignments can be identified in some of the architecture.

Georgia O’Keeffe Home and Studio

Perhaps the most famous female artist in American history, Georgia O’Keeffe lived and worked at this single-story, adobe building in Abiquiú between 1946 and 1984. The structure itself has 18th century origins. The arid environment that surrounded Keefe’s home was a significant influence on her paintings. The house is now owned by the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum. Visits are only accessible as part of tours that need to be booked in advance.

Lincoln Historic Site

Preserved for its historic importance, the village of Lincoln is home to nearly fifty 19th century buildings. Thus, to walk through Lincoln today is to gain an appreciation for what the settlement was like in the times of the Lincoln County War (1878–81), one of the more violent instalments in New Mexico history. Several buildings in the village, including the saloon, hotel, Old Mill, Old Courthouse, and several stores, are open to visitors.

McDonald Ranch House

The McDonald Ranch House in the Oscure Mountains is the place where U.S. scientists first built a plutonium-based nuclear bomb during the 1940s. The ranch building itself is older – the German migrant Franz Schmidt built it in 1913 and it remained a family home until the U.S. Army requisitioned it in 1942. The house was restored in the 1980s because of its historical importance and is now accessible on special open days.

Petroglyph National Monument

Petroglyphs and other types of rock art are one of the quintessential archaeological features of the American Southwest. A fantastic selection of this artwork, consisting of around 24,000 images, can be found at the Petroglyph National Monument in Bernalillo County. Ancestral Puebloan peoples made many, if not all, of these images, although archaeologists still do not fully understand their meanings. Uniquely, the area also contains a Buddhist stupa erected in the 1980s.

Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument

At the Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument in the heart of New Mexico, visitors can walk around the ruins of three historic missions – Quarai, Abó, and Gran Quivira. These were set up by 17th century Roman Catholics, primarily from Spain, who were eager to promote their religion among Puebloan communities living in the region. The national monument also encompasses Las Humanas, an indigenous pueblo that has been partially excavated by archaeologists.

San Felipe de Neri Church

Built in 1793, Albuquerque’s San Felipe de Neri Church is one of the oldest European-American structures in New Mexico. An older church, established by Franciscan missionaries, was erected there in 1706. Later additions in the 19th and early 20th centuries reflected additional architectural styles, such as the Neo-Gothic bell towers added in the 1860s. That same decade, Jesuits took the church over. The site remains an active place of Roman Catholic worship.

Salmon Ruins

The Salmon Ruins near Farmington are the remains of a settlement inhabited by Ancestral Puebloan communities from the 11th through to the late 13th century. It is believed that the people who built the settlement were colonists from the Chaco Canyon who were moving further afield. Also on site are the ruins of the Salmon family homestead, built in the 1890s. A museum showcases some of the artefacts recovered through excavation.

Museums in New Mexico

El Rancho de las Golondrinas

At this living history museum near Santa Fe, visitors can immerse themselves in the world of 18th and 19th century New Mexico. The museum opened in 1972 and preserves a range of historic buildings, including those both originally built here and brought from other parts of the state. Various reenactors in period costume contribute to the visitor experience. Ideal for those wanting to learn more about the southwest before it became U.S. territory.

Holocaust and Intolerance Museum of New Mexico

The Holocaust survivor Werner Gellert and his wife Frances established this small Albuquerque museum in 2001 to serve as a reminder of the perils of prejudice. As well as educating visitors about the Holocaust that took place in Nazi-controlled Europe, the museum features displays on other atrocities, such as the enslavement and subjugation of the African American people, the genocide of Native American communities, and the Ottoman Empire’s brutal persecution of Christians.

Indian Pueblo Cultural Center

At the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center in Albuquerque, visitors are given the opportunity to learn more about the cultural heritage of the Puebloan peoples of the American Southwest. The museum, which forms part of the Center, displays various historic artefacts created by these communities, as well as more recent artworks by indigenous artists. Traditional dances and other demonstrations take place at the center on weekends, and various temporary exhibitions feature throughout the year.

Maxwell Museum of Anthropology

Founded in 1932, the Maxwell Museum of Anthropology can be found on the campus of the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. Its archaeological collections, assembled through excavations from the early 20th century onward, include both a regional focus on the American Southwest and material from other parts of the world. One specialism is on human evolution, to which a whole gallery is devoted. Various temporary exhibitions also take place throughout the year.

Millicent Rogers Museum

Built around the art collection of Millicent Rogers, this museum in Taos devotes itself to the decorative arts of Southwestern America. As well as featuring the work of living artists, the museum also displays a range of historic artworks, including jewellery, ceramics, embroidery, blankets, and kachina figures made by members of the Hopi and Zuni communities. The museum has been open since the mid-1950s although located at its current premises since 1968.

New Mexico Farm and Ranch Heritage Museum

At the New Mexico Farm and Ranch Heritage Museum in Lac Cruces, visitors can learn more about agricultural history in this arid southwestern state. Displays include a range of farming implements, some prehistoric in origin, that were used in the region. Among the historic buildings preserved at the museum are various livestock barns and a blacksmith’s shop. The historic Green Bridge, built in 1943, is also located on the site.

New Mexico History Museum

Based in Santa Fe, the New Mexico History Museum opened in 2009. Prior to that, its collection had been housed in the historic Palace of the Governors. The museum covers an extensive swathe of the state’s history, from prehistory through to recent times. This includes material deriving from the diverse range of communities inhabiting the region. The museum also has an extensive research archive for historians exploring the history of the American Southwest.

Poeh Museum

The Poeh Museum in Pojoaque devotes attention to the culture and heritage of the Puebloan peoples who have inhabited this region for many centuries. The Pojoaque Pueblo community established the museum in 1987, both as a showcase for Puebloan archaeology and a space to display the work of living Puebloan artists. The museum is housed in a traditional adobe-built structure, the Puebloan Center, which also serves a variety of other community functions.

Roswell Museum and Art Center

Thanks to the famed ‘Roswell Incident’ of 1947, Roswell is world-famous as a hub for Ufologists, but visitors can also enjoy this museum, home to a range of artefacts telling the story of the American Southwest. Opened in 1937, it has since collected a diverse range of objects and artworks, many of which are on permanent display. The museum is also now home to the Robert H. Goddard Planetarium.

Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian

The oldest non-profit, independent museum in New Mexico, the Wheelwright Museum in Santa Fe is devoted to the cultural heritage of the indigenous communities of this region. Its particular focus is on artwork, displaying both historic and contemporary creations by Native artists. Mary Cabot Wheelwright and Hosteen Klah established the museum in 1937, initially as a place to showcase ceremonial objects associated with Navajo religion, although it later broadened its remit.