Mimbres Pottery Collection Returns To Silver City

Sep 16, 2013

A Native American pottery collection unearthed near Silver City is now closer to home. It was on display at the University of Texas A & M before the owner of the land where it was discovered wanted it moved to the Western New Mexico University Museum.

Thirty years ago, Dr. Cynthia Bettison was a graduate student sifting through the dirt on a ranch outside silver city. Studying archaeology, she was looking for what was left of the Mimbres Native American people.

Today, she is the director of the museum at Western New Mexico University. She says, even then, she knew she’d be back.

“I said to my cohort...I’m gonna come back and fix this place...9 years later, the position opened up and everybody that heard me say that gave me the advertisement. I’d already applied, of course.”

The Mimbres were a curious people. They lived from about A.D. 200 until the 1100’s. Before they left, they swept the floors clean.

There was still plenty of evidence to be found, though. Mimbres families buried their ancestors close by...with a well-worn bowl placed on the head of the body.

“Someone would pass away...and a portion of the floor would be dug up...they would be buried underneath the floor.”

The bowls were painted, some in two or three different colors. Dr. Bettison says they’re called a polychrome -- she chose one with a rattlesnake neck and head and the body of a turkey for the symbol of the NAN Ranch Collection at the WNMU Museum. She says the two animals probably represent the intermarriage of clans.

Academic researchers brought back all the material...a lot of material.

The tools and pottery of the collection are so vast that it takes several rooms to store it all. Not all of it is open to the public, so the museum has dedicated a couple of rooms to just store racks and racks of the pottery.

“Really what it did, it transformed our little museum that was known for...looted...Mimbres pottery into this incredible academic research museum...there will never be another collection like the NAN Ranch Collection.”

That’s because the excavation was performed on private property and before New Mexico law prevented moving any Native American remains, even for research.

Bettison says it could take decades to sort through everything here. For now, the material is waiting for a new generation of archaeologists to tell its story.