Jornada Research Institute
Tularosa, NM

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Read an article in AFAR Magazine, where Mark Johanson writes of his experience participating on a dig at Jornada Research Institute. Find out why citizen science travel is impactful, rewarding and benefits the work being done by the researchers. 

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David Greenwald
President of JR & Director of the Tularosa Canyon Archaeological Program

1. What makes your research significant?

Research in Tularosa Canyon is the first in the Tularosa Basin to demonstrate both the development of irrigation agriculture and the complexity of the socio-political organization associated with the operation of such systems by the Jornada Mogollon. As part of the overall organizational structure associated with the irrigation systems were the use of specialized structures – great kivas. These structures are widely known across much of the Southwest as places where social and political, governance, and religion and rituals would have been conducted. Their presence supports the concept of structured organizational activities associated with the management of the irrigation systems. Recently, it has been determined that the great kiva at Creekside Village was also used as an observatory, used to monitor the annual cycle of the sun using the near horizon as a horizon calendar. Observation of the lunar nodal cycle extreme rise positions were likely tied to predicting both drought and elevated moisture years, important even to farmers who engaged in irrigation agriculture. 

2. What has been most surprising about your discoveries at this location?
Our research, although incomplete, indicates that each irrigation system was physically tied to the next community downstream, supplying water or providing an alternative means of delivering water to lower systems in the canyon. We had not expected to find such an association. Perhaps the great kivas served different functions, some serving intra-community groups, others the entire community, and the Great, Great Kiva (the largest and only isolated great kiva in the canyon) serving the inter-community, or entire canyon regarding water use and distribution strategies.

3. What are your current research objectives at your site? 
There are a few:

  • To what extent did the residents of Tularosa Canyon modify the environment and physical setting to enable agriculture to be practiced that generated sufficient supplies of food to sustain the population until the next harvest was implemented?

  • Were the great kivas used contemporaneously or sequentially? What functions did they serve? Did they represent a stratified hierarchy? How many were used to monitor celestial activities?

  • Although our research at the Cornelius Locus in Ruidoso is in its early stages, we are focused on what role the site served. Was it associated with trading, interaction and exchange with distant groups, including southern Great Plains groups, perhaps similar to how Taos Pueblo and Pecos Pueblo served along the frontier between the Southwest and the Great Plains?

4. What was most important or rewarding find at this site?
The interconnectivity of the irrigation systems and the archaeoastonomy associations of the great kivas that incorporated specific landforms into the monitoring of celestial events. Regarding the irrigation systems, while they may have been operated as individual systems, the fact that they were tied together implies an organizational structure that exceeded the irrigation system, perhaps canyon-wide governance of water management. The archaeoastronomy associations of at least some of the great kivas suggest these Jornada Mogollon farmers monitored the changing skies in association with seasonal shifts, effects upon economic activities, ritual and religious observations, and forecasts of impending changes in precipitation patterns and perhaps generational cycles.

All the digs featured on Ancient Odysseys are non-profits and rely upon visitors and donations to continue their important scientific work. Please consider donating if you would like to support this organization's mission. All donations are tax deductible.

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Notable artifacts and features:   
First great kivas, irrigation systems, important trade center 

Mesilla and Lincoln phases of Jornada Mogollon



Jornada Research Institute offers archaeological programs in south-central New Mexico with a focus on the Jornada Mogollon between A.D. 200 and 1450. The Jornada Mogollon were collectors, gatherers, and agriculturalists, who constructed irrigation and complex field systems. Architectural styles and village plans changed through time from pithouse residences to Puebloan-style blocks of rooms.

The Jornada Mogollon region is one of the least understood and under-studied cultural areas in the American Southwest. The focus is on studying areas that have not received sufficient attention in the past, thereby expanding the scientific understanding of these people.

Investigations in Tularosa Canyon have identified the first great kivas in the region with research demonstrating that some great kivas were used as celestial observatories, monitoring the annual cycle of the sun, the nodal cycle of the moon, and planets and stars. Investigations also demonstrate the complex organizational level represented within the development and use of the irrigation systems within the canyon. Studies in the Ruidoso, NM area point toward the area as an important center of trade and interaction with groups from the western Great Plains and other groups.

You will be joining Jornada Research Institute archaeologists to uncover the past to help inform their research to:

  • Recover clues to prehistory

  • Study how past groups lived

  • Discover how daily subsistence needs were met

  • Learn about cultural and physical landscapes, origins, and sacred places

  • Document organized and strategic practices of how groups modified their surroundings

  • Reconstruct how people viewed their cosmology, charted time, and precisely monitored celestial events

  • Learn how ritual, art, and opposites or dualities were important parts of life and expression

What to Expect:


Standard programs include 3-day, 5-day, and 7-day schedules but customized programs can be developed to fit your schedule and availability for up to 10 days in length with each day truly customized to your interests.

Choose from the following to mix and match your experience:

  • Excavating at archaeological sites

  • Visiting village and archaeoastronomy sites to understand patterns and similarities,

  • Visiting petroglyph and pictograph sites, ritual association, and celestial observation

  • Participate in artifact processing, cleaning, sorting, identification, and function. Prehistoric period pottery is studied to understand production methods and localities where it originated from.

  • Learning about tool production methods

  • Lectures by various members or research associates of Jornada Research Institute and engage in discussions.

What's Included in the Cost:


The daily cost includes transportation to and from the dig site and all equipment needed to excavate as well as instruction, lectures and day trips.

Lunches and accommodations are not included; however, we partner with property owners who maintain Airbnb's on their property.

What to Bring:

All tools and equipment are provided by Jornada Research Institute. However, if you have a dig kit (trowel, 3 meter tape, line level, different sizes of paint brushes) and wish to bring it, please do.

  • Protection from the sun and the elements is top of the list, so bring a hat, long-sleeved shirts, long pants, sunscreen, a light jacket, rain gear and dress in layers.

  • Sturdy work shoes with closed toes such as hiking shoes.

  • Lunch and snacks

  • Camera

  • Gloves will protect your hands while digging and from the desert brush and sun.

  • Knee pads to protect against the rocky soil and the hot ground.

  • Face covering for dust.

  • Insulated, refillable bottle. Water will be provided.

  • Backpack

2022 Dates

3-day 5-day and 7-day experiences available

(There is a 3-day minimum but you are welcome to customize your experience for anywhere from 3-10 days)

April 29-May 8

August 1-September 6

September 10-October 3

October 14-24

November 4-12

November 23-30

$110 per day adults
$75 per day for ages 10-17
$85 per day seniors 62+

Clicking the above link will open an email to the director.

18+ (or children under 18 accompanied by an adult)

Participation is subject to availability and is at the full discretion of the dig location. Prices and dates dates subject to change. 

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