Mesa Prieta, in New Mexico, is one of the densest and most prolific petroglyph areas in North America. This 36-square-mile site contains an estimated 100,000 rock images from art that was made 9,500 years ago to images created in 1938 by workers in the Works Progress Administration. The Mesa Prieta Petroglyph Project seeks to locate and record these images both to encourage their protection and to educate the public about their importance. NEH funding in 2020 allowed the project to continue its work through the pandemic and even expand into new technologies that will bring the petroglyphs to a wider audience.
NEH funding allowed for the creation of 3D models such as these.
With an NEH CARES grant to the project providing salary support, anthropologist Chester Liwosz was able to turn his attention to developing the project’s technological capacity. Though he had already begun to develop 3D models of the Mesa Prieta area, the lack of in-person programs and volunteers encouraged him to refine these models and use them to create immersive virtual experiences. The models will be used both for research purposes and to create virtual tours that would be impossible to replicate physically because of the region’s large area and general inaccessibility. Liwosz’s 3D models have also led to a data-sharing partnership with a cultural resource management firm that saw an opportunity to use Mesa Prieta to better develop its drone mapping program. The partnership allows the project to gather much more data in much less time than they would be able to on their own. That data is fueling cutting-edge research that was presented in two national archeology conference presentations in 2020 and 2021.
The project has also been able to greatly expand its reach thanks to online programs such as its ongoing series Mesa Talks and the new Chats with the Archaeologist. The topics of these programs have ranged from lectures on Navajo ceramics to more informal discussions of how archaeologists do their work.“ These programs have allowed us to participate in broader intellectual conversations without abandoning the local community,” said Liwosz. By providing the financial support that allowed Liwosz to continue working on the project full-time, the NEH was vital to enabling these conversations to happen at all.