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Posted October 28, 2014

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Fifth Grader Finds Ancient Artifact During Field Trip

The Georgia O'Keeffe student found what could be a thousand-year-old axe during a visit to the APS Sandia Mountain Natural History Center.

While students were on the hunt for limestone fossils during their field trip at the Sandia Mountain Natural History Center, fifth grader Adeeb Khan and classmate Jacob Horowitz found an even greater discovery -- what is believed to be the head of a stone axe of prehistoric Native Americans.

artifact 2

“He came up to me and said he didn’t think it was a rock, and we said ‘don’t you think it looks like a tool?'"  Shannon Rhoades, Khan’s teacher at Georgia O’Keefe Elementary, said. “He was thrilled he found it.”

The artifact is believed to be a stone axe or maul, but because of the damage to one end, it is hard to say for certain. On an axe, one end would be sharpened, while on a maul, both ends would be rounded. In both tools, a wood handle would be wrapped around the groove and lashed in place.

“Given the damage to the artifact, I would guess that it was an axe and that the bit shattered when someone was cutting wood,” Dave Phillips, curator of archaeology at the University of New Mexico Maxwell Museum, said.

ancient axe

Dave Weaver, volunteer at the Sandia center and retired forensic anthropologist who gave the initial assessment, said the artifact could be anywhere from 300-1,000 years old. Tools of this type were made by numerous prehistoric North American cultures for centuries until metal axes became available, which means the axe is a minimum of 450 years old, Phillips said.

The find was made in proximity to the Mud Springs ruin, which dates from 1475 to 1525. Steven Henley, APS Environmental Education Resource Teacher, theorizes that someone used the tool in that time period, and it broke while they were out cutting wood.

Unfortunately, the tool cannot be precisely dated or attributed to a specific culture, as dating requires contextual markers, and it was found outside of an archeological site.

In the nearly 50-year history of the Sandia Mountain Natural History Center, with active field trips since the early 1990s, Henley says it is the first student find outside the known archeological sites in recent memory. But aside from the significance of the find, it has become a unique learning experience for the students.

“It’s great because one of the student’s made the discovery,” Henley said. “We are always trying to help the kids see the connection between the living and non-living parts of the ecosystem, and we don’t get to tie the human element very often.”

Rhoades said her students are currently studying natural history as part of their science lessons and learning about Native Americans in their history lessons, so finding the artifact helped her students connect their lessons.

“The kids were able make the connection and see that the tribes were here- they really were in this area,” Rhoades said.

The Sandia Mountain Natural History Center is an ecological education facility in Cedar Crest owned by Albuquerque Public Schools and operated by the New Mexico Museum of Natural History since the early 1990s. Student from across the state visit to explore the outdoors and learn about ecosystems.

During their field trip to the Sandia Mountain Natural History Center, students learn about the ecosystem of the Sandia Mountains—producers, consumers, decomposers and non-living parts—through hands on experience and a two-hour hike.

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