The Merchant Site: A Late Prehistoric Ochoa Phase Settlement in Southeastern New Mexico

Author(s): Myles Miller

Year: 2016


The Carlsbad Field Office contracted Versar, Inc. to conduct remedial archaeological data recovery excavations at the Merchant site (LA 43414), a complex village settlement in southeastern New Mexico. The Merchant site was excavated by the Lea County Archaeological Society (LCAS) from 1959 to 1965, but the results of the excavations were never fully reported. The site was fundamental to the definition of the Ochoa phase, but the nature of the phase had remained poorly known since the excavations in the 1960s. The 2015 fieldwork included a Transect Recording Unit survey, surface mapping and collections, remote sensing, hand and mechanical excavations, and geomorphic studies. The entire site of LA 43414 was surveyed and mapped, identifying several areas of prehistoric occupations including possible agricultural fields. The primary focus of the fieldwork was the village area excavated by the LCAS and the possible agricultural fields located 100 meters to the north.

The primary occupation of the Merchant site consists of a group of domestic rooms with stone foundation walls, two deep pit structures, and extensive trash middens located on an elevated escarpment overlooking the Mescalero Plain of southeastern New Mexico. The LCAS excavations revealed intriguing details on architecture, ceramics, projectile points, and flaked stone artifacts. The remedial excavations were able to clarify some of the architectural details, as well as providing a review of the material culture using contemporary perspectives.

Excavations in two large and deep pit structures excavated by the LCAS in 1959 and 1960 were able to clarify some details of the architecture and remodeling history of the structures, as well as obtaining chronometric dates. The backdirt deposits in and around those structures, as well as other refuse areas, contained thousands of animal bones, lithic flakes, and other items. Volumetric analyses of the bone and artifact densities in midden areas and the backdirt spoil piles found that the Merchant site ranks exceptionally high on the scale of occupational intensity.

One of the potentially most significant findings was the discovery of possible agricultural gridded fields to the north of the LCAS village. Geomorphological, archaeological, and botanical studies were conducted in two possible agricultural features but the results are equivocal. If future investigations confirm the presence of such features, they will represent the easternmost expression of Southwestern intensive farming practices.

The most significant finding of the reinvestigation of the site is that it truly reflects a hybrid of prehistoric Plains and Southwest architectural forms and technologies. The analysis of these details provides new insights into the nature of Late Prehistoric Ochoa phase settlements in southeastern New Mexico.

Cite this Record

The Merchant Site: A Late Prehistoric Ochoa Phase Settlement in Southeastern New Mexico. Myles Miller. Carlsbad, New Mexico: Carlsbad Field Office, Bureau of Land Management. 2016 ( tDAR id: 427194) ; doi:10.6067/XCV8PZ5BWJ

This Resource is Part of the Following Collections

Temporal Coverage

Radiocarbon Date: 650 to 500

Spatial Coverage

min long: -104.37; min lat: 31.461 ; max long: -102.612; max lat: 33.573 ;

Individual & Institutional Roles

Principal Investigator(s): Myles Miller

File Information

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