This study reports on a three-year project between 2008-2010 to record the pictographs and paintings at the Abó Painted Rocks site in Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument, New Mexico.
The Abó Unit of Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument, managed by the NPS, is located west of Mountainair, New Mexico. The Abó Unit encompasses the remains of several Native American pueblos dating from the 13th through the 17th centuries, a 17th century Spanish mission, various other prehistoric and historic structures and out-buildings, and a nationally significant pictograph site, Abó Painted Rocks.
The Abó Painted Rocks consists of numerous prehistoric Native American pictographs and paintings within a shallow rock shelter. The monochrome and polychrome rock art at the Abó Painted Rocks covers a horizontal distance of approximately 115 meters. The site is near the ruins of one of the Salinas pueblos. The countryside surrounding the site was heavily populated by about 1250 AD. The area was abandoned by the time of the Pueblo Revolt in 1680. Rock art is difficult to date, but archeologists assume that the figures were created during this 400-year period. Paintings and pictograph images include handprints, chevrons, local fauna, spirals, turkeys, and anthropomorphic figures.
The site is culturally significant to 18 American Indian tribes and the local Hispanic community. The representations, however, are in a severe and rapid state of deterioration. The site is located less than 50m from a major roadway, exposing the site to vibration. The close proximity of the highway also makes the rock art accessible to trespassers, resulting in disturbance and graffiti. The Burlington Northern & Santa Fe Railroad’s Abó Pass Line is a major freight route with constant rail traffic and is less than 200m from the site, dramatically increasing vibration at the site. Carbon monoxide pollution from train and car exhaust is also a major issue. Rock swallows use the shelter for nesting, resulting in numerous mud nests adhering to the Abó Painted Rocks which compromise the integrity of the original fabric/paint. The site is also vulnerable to wildland fires that could irreparably damage the paintings.
These impacts are historic, as well as ongoing, and some of them date back as many as 150 years. However, as time has progressed, disturbances have intensified and their effects have been compounded. Measurement of impacts to the resource, as indicated by historic documentation, indicates increasingly rapid deterioration. Responding to this situation, cultural resource management staff at Salinas Pueblo Missions NM decided to fund a project to fully record the rock art for documentation purposes and to aid in preservation planning. Although the resource has been photographed and documented, previous recordings are limited and lack highly-detailed, fully analytical documentation.
The results of this project form the foundation for emergency conservation treatment, site protection, and case study research at one of the most significant rock art panels in the nation. When completed, the project will exemplify management techniques that are applicable to other rock art sites at Salinas Pueblo Missions and sites at other national parks, and will provide technical expertise to the international archeology community.