Blackwater Locality No. 1 is a National Historic Landmark that is one of the most important archaeological sites in the New World. This unique site documents and interprets the earliest Paleoindian cultures in North America. It is a research entity and used as a reference point for Paleoindian Studies in North America and the Southern High Plains. Blackwater Locality No. 1 is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Visitors hike, on tree-lined, primitive dirt trails for one to two hours on the self-guided or guided tours. You may request a driving tours for physically impaired visitors with advance notice. Special guided tours will be arranged in advance. Please call 575.356.5235 for tour information.
Blackwater Locality No. 1 is about eight miles north of Portales. It is on Highway 467, about five miles north of Highway 70 or 15 miles south of U.S. Highway 84/60. It is one mile north of the Oasis State Park highway exit (printable map)
Blackwater Locality No. 1 is the Clovis type site for the oldest accepted widespread culture in the New World. Evidence of their remarkable fluted points (a New World invention), other stone and bone weapons, tools and processing implements are found at the site. These implements are in association with extinct Pleistocene megafauna such as Columbian mammoth, ancient bison, large horses and large turtles. Other Pleistocene-age animals that visited the site for food and water were tapir, camel, four-prong antelope, tampulama, llama, deer, dire wolf, ground sloth, short-faced bear, saber-tooth cat, shovel-toothed amebeledon, beaver, armadillo and peccary.
The site is also famous for its stratigraphic record in the sediment layers giving a unique rain-gauge for the last 13,000 years of cultural sequences. The site is unsurpassed for cultural sequences reaching from earliest New World peoples to the Archaic and Ceramic times. Each level in this sequence contains critically important evidence, representing one of the best sequences of Paleoindian to Archaic deposits. In addition the strata show 2 million years of the Quaternary in the walls of the deep pits.
The famous multicomponent site's cultural sequence is dated to 13,300 to 13,000 years before present (B.P.) at the lowest level, Clovis. The Folsom level is directly above the Clovis occupation, followed by the Portales Complex (representing cultures with unfluted parallel-flaked projectile points), and then an Archaic level. In "radiocarbon years"—which do not precisely correspond with normal calendar years—the Clovis site is dated from 11,300 to 11,000 radiocarbon years before the present (RCYBP). The Folsom occupation was 10,800 to 10,000 RCYBP, Portales from 9,800 to 8,000 RCYBP, and Archaic from 7,000 to 5,000 RCYBP. These cultural sequences are visible with mammoth and bison bones on display inside the Interpretive Center's building on the south bank at the site.
Ceramic sherds were found in situ in the Ttan sands, adding the most recent cultural sequence of occupation at the site.
Blackwater Locality No. 1 contains the earliest water control system in the New World. Clovis age and Archaic age wells were found here, indicating climate fluctuations and variable water table in one of the most stable spring-fed lakes of the past, providing a much needed water source in times of drought. The Clovis age hand dug well is currently on display on the east side of the south bank at the site.
Ongoing research is conducted by Eastern New Mexico University archaeologists, with periodic contributions from other institutions. Researchers from all over the world visit the site to view the archaeological excavations and further appreciate the importance of Paleoindian studies. Many archaeological researchers use the collections for further studies of Paleoindian life. The site is the beginning point for all Paleoindian studies, which branch out from the in situ evidence found here, both past and present.
The site does not have human remains associated with any cultural deposits even though the massive deposits of animal bone, tools, spear points and other evidence suggests future excavation may reveal such remains. Intact deposits on the site still remain to be explored and excavated, even after 63 years of sporadic scientific investigation. A bright future exists today with our ability to conduct more in-depth and controlled studies of the site. The studies will provide much-needed information about campsites and other types of activities that occurred in this early time period. In addition, research of the upper levels may yet define more recent cultures and the sequence of events that occurred in the past. Many questions remain about more recent groups of people that visited this famous site, leaving their arrowheads and pottery.
Dr. E. B. Howard and Dr. John Cotter (University of Pennsylvania and Philadelphia Academy of Natural Sciences) were the first professional investigators, in August 1932 to 1936, at "The Clovis Site" (later named Blackwater Locality #1 Site). E. H. Sellards' excavations from 1948 to 1956 documented the existence of Clovis people dating older than Folsom people. Sellards also identified the Portales Complex above the Folsom level, published in Early Man in America (ital.) in 1952. Twelve other institutions have done research at the site during gravel mining operations, saving valuable information, bone and artifacts.
Gravel mining started in September 1932, beginning with two horses dragging gravel with fresnal type buckets into piles to be loaded onto trucks for road construction. In the 1950s, massive earth moving equipment and dynamite were subsequently used to move the 20-30 feet deep overburden (which contained cultural materials) resting above the gravel.
Since the site's discovery, attempts were made in 1940 by John Cotter, in 1956 by Fred Wendorf, and 1963 by a host of New Mexico dignitaries and local people, to save several acres of the in situ cultural deposits from being destroyed by gravel mining. Not until 1978 were the site's 157 acres purchased by Eastern New Mexico University. The 1983-1984 investigations revealed 800 meters of in situ cultural deposits on the southwest side. Buried camp sites are also thought to exist around the former ancient lake edge.
Since 1988, director Dr. John Montgomery, former curator Joanne Dickenson and current site archaeologist George Crawford have developed the site for security, access, interpretation and conservation. Part-time help is provided by Eastern New Mexico University graduate students. The site has been open to the public since 1991.