Angelyn Bass, Anthropology Research Faculty, wins 2018 Governor’s Heritage Preservation Award for Archaeological Site Conservation Projects.

Departmental News

Posted:  Jun 05, 2018 - 12:00am

Angelyn Bass, Research Assistant Professor of Anthropology at UNM, and her project colleagues, Douglas Porter (School of Engineering, University of Vermont) and Larry Nordby (Archaeologist), have been selected to receive a 2018 Governor’s Heritage Preservation Honor Award for their work on National Park Service archaeological site conservation projects at Montezuma Castle and Casa Grande Ruins National Monuments.  The State Historic Preservation Office and the Arizona Preservation Foundation present the award for outstanding contributions made to the preservation of Arizona’s unique heritage.
Angelyn Bass, an architectural conservator specializing in archaeological site management and the preservation of architectural finishes, joined the Department of Anthropology as Research Assistant Professor in 2013. She is the principal investigator on a series of interdisciplinary field study projects funded by the National Park Service and administered through the Colorado Plateau Cooperative Ecosystem Study Unit. These projects provide students with hands-on training in site conservation and the opportunity to work side-by-side with specialists in archaeology, architecture, engineering, materials science, geology, geodetic systems, as well as preservation craftspeople. Project sites have included Casa Grand, Montezuma Castle, Natural Bridges, Bandelier, El Morro National Monuments, Tumacacori National Historical Site, and Joshua Tree National Park.
The initial goals of the Casa Grande and Montezuma Castle projects were to (1) collect baseline condition information on ancient architecture at both sites and to integrate archaeological and architectural research; (2) understand archaic building technologies and physical condition issues; and (3) develop conservation strategies at both sites. The outcomes, however, have been farther-reaching and have resulted in the development of techniques for analyzing micro-structural, mineralogical and chemical make-up of ancient plasters through optical and scanning electron microscopy, x-ray diffraction, and image analysis of micrographs. This work has been conducted with Mike Spilde Manager, Microprobe/SEM Laboratories at UNM’s Institute of Meteoritics. Gathering information in this way has allowed us to characterize the plaster materials, examine plaster application techniques and surface embellishments, and yielded information on physical characteristics affecting performance (including porosity, binder and aggregate proportions, and identification of decay products). The data strongly supports our assumptions that ancient builders at these sites were seeking out and processing different sources of earthen materials to achieve specific outcomes related to appearance, performance, and durability. These building materials clearly have the potential to convey information about past human behavior, and have allowed the National Park Service to better interpret each site in terms of ancient engineering and architectural achievements.

In addition to studying earthen plasters, the projects have also addressed past concerns with the structural stability of these monumental dwellings. In cooperation with engineers at the University of Vermont, MIT, and Cambridge University, we have analyzed the seismic resilience and structural stability of each building using digital modeling. By combining LiDAR data with information from architectural analysis and the characterization of earthen materials at the site, the project team was able to conduct first-order structural evaluations, identify parts of the buildings most vulnerable to earthquake loading, and quantify structural vulnerabilities.
According to the award nomination submitted by Matthew Guebard, NPS project partner and Chief of Resources and Archeologist, Southern Arizona Office: “Recent work at the Montezuma Castle cliff dwelling and Casa Grande great house exemplifies the ideal use of multi-disciplinary research and science as well as targeted historic preservation at two of Arizona’s most iconic archaeological resources. The work conducted by Bass, Porter and Nordby highlights how in-depth archaeological and architectural research can provide a wealth of new and previously unknown information at two of Arizona’s most well known archaeological resources. Incorporating legacy data from past researchers along with information from new scientific techniques, Bass and her team have redefined the significance of each site and developed appropriate treatment strategies that protect the information potential and cultural meaning encoded within each site’s incredibly well-preserved architecture.

Through our research and fieldwork, we hope to continue creating opportunities for students to participate in the design and implementation of culturally, ecologically and technically sensitive solutions for conserving and managing archaeological and historic sites, and for UNM to continue to play a leading role in this research. At the core of our projects is the desire to engage students of all types and interests in interdisciplinary and collaborative research and practical training opportunities outside the classroom. Our projects are organized around research teams of university faculty, their professional partners, and student research assistants. This collaboration brings the research facilities of the university to bear on specific conservation needs at heritage sites, and creates unique and powerful educational experiences for students in some of our nation’s most treasured places. 

In addition to recognizing the support of the National Park Service and our professional partners, Angelyn would like to acknowledge the administrative support of UNM staff Jennifer George, JoNella Vasquez, Denise Vigil, and Rebecca Rendon de Gonzales, and UNM student participation by Katie Williams, Katherine Shaum, Leon Natker, N. Cassandra Ferriola and Emily Briggs.

Following is a list of publications and reports on these projects:

Porter, D.; Mehrotra, M.J.; Bass, A; Guebard, M. 2018 Material and Seismic Assessments of the Great House at Casa Grande Ruins National Monument, Arizona. Journal of Structural Engineering (In Review)

Guebard, M.C., Bass, A., Porter, D. “Colored Plasters and Cultural Meaning at the Montezuma Castle Cliff Dwelling and Casa Grande Great House” in Journal of Arizona Archaeology.

Bass, A., Porter, D., Spilde, M., Guebard, M., Shaum, K., and Ferriola, N.  “Characterization and Comparative Analysis of Ancient Earthen Plasters from the American Southwest.” MRS Advances, 1-34. Cambridge University Press doi:10.1557/adv.2017.240.

Bass, A., Porter, D., Nordby, L. Stevenson, K. Condition Assessment and Preservation Planning for Montezuma Castle, Montezuma Castle National Monument: 2015. Report submitted to the National Park Service, July 2015.

Bass, A., Porter, D., Nordby, L., Reimann, L., Shaum, K., Stevenson, K., Condition Assessment and Treatment Planning for the Great House, Casa Grande Ruins National Monument: 2014. Report submitted to the National Park Service, February 2014.