Biological and Cultural Site Program
The White Sands cultural effort represents the first large-scale cultural investigation on this facility to analyze data and provide feedback to ground crews in almost real-time using portable tablet technology. The Otero project was one of three areas investigated by us, resulting in on-the-ground coverage of more than 100,000 acres.
A team of our archaeologists completed a 100-percent cultural resource survey within the Otero Maneuver Area, documenting historic and prehistoric occupation of the present-day White Sands Missile Range. The natural team also completed a portion of this range, documenting the existing plant and animal community. Roughly 54,000 acres of sprawling sand dunes, alluvial flats, and a thin section of the Malpais (a prehistoric basalt lava flow) in the Tularosa Basin were examined. The team documented close to 300 archaeological sites, evidence of a rich history in a region that was fertile grassland only 1,000 years ago. It is difficult to imagine now when hiking across the sand dunes with temperatures pushing 100 degrees and no sight of rain for weeks or even months at a time.
Blowouts between the sand dunes are literal windows into the past, places where centuries of sand have eroded away to show a sample of the cultural remains hidden beneath the remaining dunes. It is a complex, changing environment that blurs the spatial and temporal edges between occupations. Our team used a combination of sampling, geomorphology, and auguring to try and understand the bigger picture suggested in the blowouts, providing evidence of six to seven thousand years of occupation in this region.