ENMU Anthropology Graduate Student Excavates Bones from Blackwater Draw Site

Amber Clarkson working on their research project.
Amber Clarkson working on their research project. Photos: Department of Anthropology and Applied Archaeology Facebook page

ENMU Anthropology Graduate Student Excavates Bones from Blackwater Draw Site

Amber Clarkson, an anthropology graduate student at Eastern New Mexico University, is working on an excavation project on a block of sediment from the University's famed Blackwater Draw Site.

Amber plans to graduate in December 2022, with the possibility of graduating in May 2022, depending on her progress on the project. They hold a bachelor's degree from the University of Central Missouri, as well as an associate degree from a junior college they attended right out of high school.

Amber discusses her project and Eastern Experience with the ENMU News.

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Tell us about your project. What inspired your participation in this project?

I am working on a non-thesis project as part of the fulfillment of my master's degree. The project is an archaeological project that involves an isolated excavation at the Blackwater Draw Site located just outside of Portales.

For the past couple of months, I have been actively excavating an isolated, plastered block of sediment that was removed from the Blackwater Draw Site during an excavation in the 1970s by former ENMU professor George Agogino. During the time of the excavation, the site was on private land that was used as a mining quarry. Anthropology departments from ENMU and Texas would excavate as the miners would find bone which led to many hasty excavations in short periods of time. My block of sediment is from one such excavation that was not touched for decades.

I am doing a very basic archaeological dig with a spray bottle filled with water and a bamboo stick. The block, labeled in its notes as the Folsom Wedge, contains what are most likely Bison antiquus remains. I am excavating the bones and stabilizing them from the weathering damage. Once the skeletal elements are removed, I will do a faunal analysis of them, trying to determine how many individuals are represented, an approximate age of the remains, etc.

Coming into the master's program here, I knew that I wanted to work with skeletal elements. I was paired with Dr. Brendon Asher, who became my academic advisor. His background is in plains archaeology, so when he suggested this project to me where I would be able to get my hands dirty and study bison remains, I gladly took it.

My progress in the excavation of the Folsom Wedge itself is coming along great. The progress was slow at the beginning, especially getting the first 10 cm removed, but I was able to have some help from my friends/colleagues in the anthropology master's program, Janae Hughes and Esteban Rangel.

What are some highlights from the project so far?

My self-described highlights are the small stuff. Starting off the project only seeing a couple centimeters of a bone and then slowly revealing it. Having that pride that you have the knowledge to look at a piece of bone and have an idea of what it is. Also, getting to bond and chat with new friends over bones that are over 11,000 years old.

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Tell us about your background and family.

I was born and raised in the greater Kansas City Metropolitan area; specifically, I was born on the Kansas side and raised on the Missouri side. I have a younger brother. My mother works in healthcare, and my dad works as a coder. I have a cat that is named Pad, and we have endured quarantine together in my small apartment.

Why did you choose to attend ENMU?

I came to ENMU because of the Blackwater Draw Site. In undergrad, when I took my American archaeology classes, the site was always on my tests, so I always knew the significance of the site, and I just wanted to do work there. I wanted to do work at a site that was famous and leave my impact on it, to forever be a part of its history, even a small part.

What is your favorite part of being a Greyhound?

I think the ENMU campus is beautiful, and I love walking around it between classes or when I am stuck on a paper.

Which activities are you involved in at Eastern?

I am a member of the anthropology club on campus, Mu Alpha Nu. The club has monthly meetings where we organize field trips to archaeological sites and listen to lectures by students, faculty and academic guests.

I work as a TA in the Department of Anthropology and Applied Archaeology with Dr. Brendon Asher, assisting him with some of his undergraduate classes, such as the Intro to Archaeology class that he teaches.

I also work at the Roosevelt County Historical Museum, which is located in front of the Administration Building on campus. At the museum, I handle artifacts, deal with the preservation of materials and work on the museum's digital archive.

Which professors have helped mentor you during your time at ENMU?

A lot of the mentoring I have received has come from Dr. Brendon Asher. We have a lot of overlapping interests, and he has helped me a lot on this project as well as my studies here at ENMU in general.

Where is your favorite place on the ENMU campus?

My favorite place on the ENMU campus, besides the site, is the bridge that goes over West 2nd Street. It is a part of my daily routine when I am going to the RCHM from my apartment, and the stairs are steep, but the view as you cross is nice.

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Which class has stood out to you the most?

My favorite class was the zooarchaeology class that I recently took with Dr. Asher. The class is really interesting and fun. I was able to sketch a variety of skeletal elements of different animals and learn about the clues that animal remains can give about the people of the past.

What advice would you give to students who are interested in your field of study?

If you are in any way interested in anthropology, archaeology or history, try out one of the anthropology department's classes that they provide on campus. Anthropology is a broad science that works with a lot of different research interests, so, really, all you need to start in anthropology is a drive to learn.

What do you hope to pursue as a career? What do you hope to ultimately achieve in your career?

I have always been one to change my mind when it comes to this question. Right now, I am thinking of pursuing a career in museum work, specifically at a natural history museum, so that I can continue to work with faunal remains. Ultimately in my career, I would like to be in an environment where I can continue to learn and work hands-on as much as possible. Also, maybe discover a new species.

What other dreams do you have?

I have always wanted to study ancient primates in South America and Asia because primate evolution is very diverse and interesting. Studying Neanderthals in Europe would also be cool.

What are your hobbies?

Most of my free time is spent reading, watching tv, DM'ing for my D&D group and practicing my atlatl throwing.