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Exhibit could reveal trade networks of the Southwest

Archaeological artifacts that could help reveal information about trade networks between the Southwestern United States and Mexico are now on display at the Governor's Gallery in Santa Fe.

The exhibit, "Beyond Borders: An International Archaeological Program in the Casas Grandes Region," was made possible with the help of more than 200 students from about 15 countries, including 30 students from UNM.

The project was initiated after Gov. Bruce King signed a convenio, or pact, which established a cooperative academic program among the Museum of New Mexico, the State of New Mexico and the National Institute of Anthropology and History in Mexico.

Robert Leonard, a co-director of the project and a UNM anthropology associate professor, said the project has revealed information that will help researchers better understand the trade networks that once spanned parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Mexico.

"We want to understand how the American Southwest was linked to Mexico prior to the arrival of the Spanish," Leonard said.

The project also will help determine what Southwestern society may have been like in the 14th century.

Tim Maxwell, director of the office of archaeological studies at the Museum of New Mexico, said the region being excavated, Casas Grandes, spans through parts of Ariz., N.M. and Mexico. Within that region, two trade sites, PaquimÇ and Galeana, are being evaluated by researchers involved in the project.

Though PaquimÇ, a former 14th-century town with thousands of inhabitants, is not being excavated, researchers said the other sites excavated will reveal information about PaquimÇ and its trade networks.

"What we're concerned with is how these other surrounding sites fit in with the trade system," Maxwell said. "There's been a lot of debate among archaeologists whether or not PaquimÇ controlled all of the trade, or whether it just traded from village to village and ended up at PaquimÇ."

Already, researchers have found evidence of the mass production of pottery and the possibility of copper smeltering. Leonard said the discoveries could change the way modern researchers think.

"It means that prehistoric cultures in New Mexico and Arizona were much more influenced by what was happening in Mexico than what most researchers realize," he said.

The exhibit has been on display in the Governor's Gallery, located in Santa Fe's Roundhouse, since Jan. 19 and will continue through March 9, Leonard said. Some items on display include excavated pottery, turquoise and figurines, maps of the area and archaeological documents.

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Leonard and Maxwell said they hope the exhibit will bring more cultures and students together, as it already has.

"In prehistory, there wasn't a border," Leonard said. "People lived both to the north and the south - it was essentially one large cultural area. What is important for our project is to cross borders to bring students together from both areas."

Maxwell said he hopes exhibit-goers also discover the common history among parts of the southwest.

"We want to share with New Mexicans what we're doing, what kind of researching we are doing with Mexico," Maxwell said. "We have a lot of things in common and it's rare to get an opportunity to study those things together with Mexico. We wanted to share those results with the public. It's been a great cross-cultural experience for everyone."

When the exhibit is removed from the Governor's gallery on March 9, Maxwell said it will travel to two museums in Mexico.

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