History of Totah Archaeological Project

by Tommy Bolack

Tommy Bolack has been interested in archaeology since he found his first Anasazi Black-on-white bowl in an irrigation furrow of an onion field in 1959. This interest intensified and was like his father’s. In 1962, his excavation of a round chamber yielded a couple of beautiful Mesa Verde Black-on-white bowls and sparked a life-long interest in the Anasazi culture.

The first attempt to begin research and field school possibilities on the B-Square Ranch was in 1972 when the San Juan Valley Archaeological Project, associated with the excavations at Salmon Ruins, helped the Archaeological Society of New Mexico sponsor a field school at the Sterling Site. Field school sessions were held from 1972-1974. Eastern New Mexico University granted credit for the latter two sessions. The field school ended because of shortages in funding.

In the dozen years that followed, attempts were made to again establish a field school with Eastern New Mexico University and the local Archaeological Society. Tommy Bolack named the project the Totah Field School, but the attempt failed. A final attempt in the early 1990s with Salmon Ruins/Division of Conservation Archaeology also failed due to lack of interest and funding. At that point in time, Tommy Bolack identified the field school project as the Total Archaeological Project.

Frustrated but not giving up, Tommy Bolack contacted San Juan College in 1998 to revive his long-lived hope of better understanding the Anasazi culture living in the Totah area of northwestern New Mexico. His hopes are to research the substantial artifact assemblage which has been collected from the B-Square Ranch through the years. In addition, he hopes to possibly change some long held ideas of the center of the Anasazi culture and to educate by providing field schools, research, and publications on this most interesting culture. This endeavor will be different in that funding will come from both the San Juan College and Bolack Foundations.

San Juan College Field School

The Totah Archaeological Project(TAP) was established in 1999 as a research project and field school financially sponsored and administered as a joint project between San Juan College and B-Square Ranch. The project was initiated by Tommy Bolack, owner and manager of the Bolack Minerals Company-B-Square Ranch and the Bolack Museum Foundation, because of his enthusiasm for knowledge of the Anasazi people who lived in the Totah area of New Mexico and their environment. He wishes to share the 12,000 acre B-Square Ranch that is so rich in natural resources comprised of bountiful irrigated fields, a quality riverine environment, and rugged canyons and mesas. San Juan College and the San Juan College Foundation were pleased to share in sponsoring the project because of the great potential for educational and research opportunities which could arise from such collaboration. Initially, research is focused on the Chacoan Anasazi communities of the Middle San Juan River valley.

The field school, ANTH 288, Archaeological Field Methods, is managed and taught by Linda Wheelbarger. She is a professional archaeologist who has worked in the Southwest for 40 years. For 20 years, Wheelbarger was Co-director of San Juan College’s Cultural Resources Management Program, a contract archaeology business. She began teaching the college’s field school in 1999 and other archaeology classes in 2005. Although Wheelbarger retired from the contract archaeology segment of her career in 2010, as Adjunct Faculty she continues to teach the field school, archaeology internships, and both credit and non-credit classes through the SJC Community Learning Center as well as continuing with public archaeology commitments and conference presentations.

The 1999 TAP funding provided for production of a research design which was submitted to the New Mexico State Cultural Properties Review Committee prior to the first field school session. TAP funds provide for operation of the field school, analysis of the recovered artifacts and samples, research on special topics, and publications documenting the results.

Six credit hours can be earned through the ANTH 288 field school class or 3-6 credit hours through the ANTH 280 archaeology internship. The field school is always held during summer session although recently occasional volunteer sessions are held in the Fall and Spring.

Totah Archaeological Project Research Details.

San Juan College – B-Square Ranch Field School

June 4 to July 13, 2018

Butte Lightning

Project Overview

Needle Rock

The Totah Archaeological Project Field School is being offered and supported by San Juan College in partnership with Tommy Bolack and the B-Square Ranch. The goal of the project is to provide archaeological educational opportunities for San Juan College students, local community members, and visitors to the region, and to contribute to research on the Anasazi culture in the Totah area.

The field school is conducted on the B-Square Ranch, a combination working cattle ranch, waterfowl conservation area, and museum facility.   The field school is in a gorgeous location at the base of the Shannon Bluffs and adjacent to the San Juan River, overlooking the city of Farmington lying immediately to the north.  We are in high desert Colorado Plateau terrain and normally receive only 8 inches of precipitation a year.  Our area is called “Totah” by the local Navajos meaning “land amidst water” because of the three rivers which junction at the western edge of Farmington.

In 2018, we will be continuing to work at Point Pueblo, a large Chacoan greathouse community dating to the Pueblo II time period of AD 850-1150 and the subsequent Pueblo III time period of AD 1150-1300.  Both the great kiva and the great house will be undergoing excavation this year at Point Pueblo.  The site is located on the south side of the San Juan River immediately to the south of the city of Farmington, New Mexico.

The 2018 six-week field session allows for three separate courses to be offered concurrently; a 6 credit ANTH 288 Field School, a 3 credit ANTH 280 Archaeology Internship, and a 6 credit ANTH 280 Archaeology Internship.  Four weeks of participation are required for a 6 credit class and two weeks of participation are required for a 3 credit class.  As long as a student meets those time requirements, they may choose to attend any portion of the session.  Students may register for the field school or the internship or both the field school and the 3 credit internship for a total of 3, 6, or 9 credits.  Students may register for a 3 credit class as late as June 29 or a 6 credit class as late as June 15, 2018, because the amount of time they are required to attend is still possible during the remaining portion of the session.

All students are welcome to stay for the entire session if they so desire whether they are taking the course for a grade or are auditing the class with no grade.

As will also be noted below, people interested in attending the field school as a volunteer may sign up under the ANTH 280 3-credit internship Auditing the course (no grade given to the student) and thus can attend the entire session or any part of the session but are not responsible for any course requirements. Students who have previously taken and paid for the field school or internship, are permitted to volunteer with no fees required.



Participants in the field school/archaeology internship course will receive instruction in archaeological excavation, survey, mapping of sites using both compass and tape as well as with hand held GPS data downloaded to GIS software, laboratory processing of recovered cultural materials, drafting, and artifact analysis. Tours of local archaeological sites, as well as lectures on southwestern archaeology and contract archaeology, and workshops on artifact and ecofact analysis are included in the session.  Sites that are toured include Mesa Verde, Chaco Canyon, Aztec Ruins, Salmon Ruins, and the Navajo pueblitos of Largo Canyon.

Students should note that the primary purpose for taking a field school is to acquire excavation and survey experience.  To that end, the 2017 proposed field work portion of the class will take place during weeks 2 through 9 of the 12 week session.  Therefore, students should take that into consideration as they choose which weeks of the field school to attend.

The first week of the summer session, May 22-26, will provide students with experience preparing for a field school including organizing field school equipment and paperwork as well as conveying materials to the site and setting up the equipment tent.

Excavation and survey will be conducted for the next 8 weeks of the 2017 session, from May 29 through July 21st.  However, it should also be noted that the first week of excavation, May 29 through June 2, will include Monday as a class day orienting students to the project and archaeology of the Southwest and Tuesday activities will consist of a tour of the archaeological sites on the Ranch.  The remaining three days of that week will include a fair amount of cleaning previous excavation areas as well as clearing brush for potential remote sensing.  We will likely be able to excavate only on Thursday and Friday of that first week.

The final three weeks of the 2017 field school session, July 24th through August 11 will focus on lab work consisting of additional cleaning of artifacts, photographing artifacts, data entry of artifact data and provenience data, manipulation of that data into tables, drafting of plan views and profiles completed during the excavation, as well as some limited artifact analysis.  At the end of the last week of the session, Wheelbarger will be attending the Pecos Conference which in 2017 will be held at Pecos, NM.  Students who use the last week of the field school session as part of their attendance will be expected to go to Pecos, NM on Thursday, August 10, either with Wheelbarger or on their own, and attend the Conference on Friday, August 11th.  Although not required, students will probably want to stay and attend the Saturday Pecos Conference events and Sunday field trips.

Thus, students desirous of field work will need to attend a minimum of 1 or 2 weeks within the excavation and survey portion of the class which is from May 29 through July 21, 2017.

Admission and Costs

The Archaeological Field Methods class, ANTH 288-001, is 6 hours of undergraduate-level Humanities credit and is limited to 20 students. The Archaeology Internship class can be taken as 3-credit ANTH 280-001 or 6-credit ANTH 280-002 and this is limited to 15 students. Special requests may be made for a 4 or 5 credit internship, but these are granted on an individual basis.

The San Juan College Summer 2018 tuition rates are as follows:

New Mexico Resident – $46/credit hour-plus:

  • Either:
    • A flat fee of $77.50 for resident students taking 4 credit hours or less
    • A flat fee of $185.00 for resident students taking 4.1 credit hours or more
  • $1.50 student activity fee per credit hour

Non-Resident – $146/credit hour-plus:

  • Either:
    • A flat fee of $137.50 for non-resident students taking 4 credit hours or less
    • A flat fee of $305.00 for non-resident students taking 5 credit hours or more
  • $1.50 student activity fee per credit hour

In addition, all field school and intern students must pay an Equipment and Supply fee of $100 for each 3 credits to help cover equipment, vehicle rental, supplies, and other miscellaneous costs. Thus, the Equipment and Supply fee is $100 for 3 credits, $200 for 6 credits, and $300 for 9 credits.

Total tuition costs for the summer field school/internship including credit hour fee, flat fee, activity fee, and equipment and supply fee are:

New Mexico Residents
3 credits = $320.00
6 credits = $670.00
9 credits = $912.50

Non-New Mexico Residents
3 credits = $680.00
6 credits = $1,390.00
9 credits = $1,932.50

For students taking the course for a grade, the following attendance is required:

  • 3 credit students are required to stay any two weeks or any 10 days
  • 6 credit students are required to attend any four weeks or any 20 days
  • 9 credit students are required to attend any six weeks

ANTH 288 field school student grades are dependent on class participation and a final exam.  ANTH 280 intern student grades are dependent on field school participation and submission of an excavation summary report on a portion of the summer’s excavation. Materials for the report as well as report examples will be submitted to students by July 28, 2018, the end of the first lab week after excavation is finished, and they will have till Monday, August 13, 2018, to compile the report and submit it to Wheelbarger. The report must be 10 pages or more for the 3 credit class interns and 20 pages or more for the 6 credit class interns.

Linda Wheelbarger must be contacted and permission granted prior to registering for either the ANTH 288 or ANTH 280 classes. Official registration does not begin until mid-April 2017.

Room and board will be the responsibility of the student. However, for the last six years most of the out-of-town students stayed at the Economy Inn in downtown Farmington where special rates are given to the students. That has worked out well and the Economy Inn has agreed to provide special rates again in 2018. In general, when sharing a motel room (includes microwave and refrigerator) with one or more students, motel room costs are $125 per week. Single room rates are $240 per week. Board (food) costs are dependent on the student, but $100 per week is a good, although relatively minimal, estimate.


Background Information

Research Design

Excavation Manual


2017 Photos

2016 Photos

2015 Photos

2014 Photos

2013 Photos

2012 Photos

2011 Powerpoint

2009 Photos











Landscape and Overview Photos