A Legacy in Earth: Characterizing and Conserving Earthen Building Materials in Archaeological and Historic Sites


Start Date: Apr 01, 2022 - 02:00pm

Location: Presented via Zoom

Angelyn Bass and Douglas Porter will present their talk  A Legacy in Earth: Characterizing and Conserving Earthen Building Materials in Archaeological and Historic Sites virtually on Friday, April 1 at 2 pm as part of the 2022 Spring Anthropology Colloquia Speaker Series.  You can access the talk here You can obtain the passcode by emailing Dr. Ian Wallace at iwallace@unm.edu

At Ancestral sites in the southwestern US, earth was used for building construction and architectural embellishment. It served as a structural material, in the form of puddled earth or cob, as adobe, or as mortar for stone masonry, and was used to construct built-in features for weaving and food production. Earth was also used to make plasters for walls, floors, and roofs, to prepare grounds or substrates for painted and incised designs, and as paints and washes for conveying color and sheen to architectural surfaces. Though these mortars and plasters differ in terms of their material components, which typically vary with the local geology, the selection, processing, and application of the materials provide us with clues about the design intent of the builders, and glimpses into a well-developed craft practice.

Earthen construction is highly ephemeral and prone to rapid loss from weather, earthquakes, and anthropogenic impacts such as visitation and increased intensity of storms associated with changes in climate. Since 2013, UNM’s Anthropology Department, in cooperation with the University of Vermont, UNM’s Institute of Meteoritics, and the Colorado Plateau Cooperative Ecosystems Study Unit, has been engaged in site preservation projects focused on characterizing the earthen building materials. Our results reveal that earthen materials were intentionally selected and modified to suit unique site conditions and physical properties required for specific architectural uses. We will discuss how combining characterization studies with architectural and structural analyses help guide preservation strategies in ways that respect the materiality and authenticity of these places, without foreclosing on the dynamic values they continue to hold.

Angelyn Bass is an architectural conservator specializing in the conservation of archaeological sites, with a focus on architectural features, finishes, and wall paintings. As a Research Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of New Mexico, Angelyn has been the principal investigator on over 15 collaborative research projects focused on micromorphological analysis of earthen plasters, characterizing earthen and lime-based architectural materials, site-management planning, and engaging students in conservation through experiential learning. Angelyn has also been a conservator with Proyecto Regional Arqueológico San Bartolo-Xultun (PARASBX) since 2002.

Douglas Porter is an architectural conservator who directs research focused on the investigation, stabilization, and repair of culturally significant historic / prehistoric sites and structures in cooperation with academic, federal and non-profit partners. Porter holds a research faculty position in the School of Engineering, University of Vermont, where he is exploring the roles of engineering in conservation. Other research interests include archaic structural systems in timber, characterization of ancient earthen materials, and the roles of biotic crusts in the development of case-hardened surfaces on poorly consolidated rocks. Porter is an expert member of the ICOMOS International Scientific Committee on Earthen Architectural Heritage (ISCEAH) and the ICOMOS International Scientific Committee on the Analysis and Restoration of Architectural Heritage (ISCARSAH).

Hosted by the UNM Department of Anthropology, the  Alfonso Ortiz Center for Intercultural Studies, and the Latin American and Iberian Institute (LAII)  the Department Colloquia Speaker Series will continue this semester.  Talks from this years series are available on our You Tube for your viewing.

Upcoming speakers include:

April 15          Webb Keane (University of Michigan)

April 22         Jana Valesca Meyer (UNM)

May 6           Shaylih Muehlmann (University of British Columbia