News Column

Historical archaeologist explores what may have been the realities of iconic Santa Fe building

August 29, 2014

By Jackie Jadrnak, Albuquerque Journal, N.M.

Aug. 29--Cordelia "Dedie" Thomas Snow hopes she doesn't get stoned.

She's not talking about the effects of smoking herbal products, but about a potential response in the same category as "tarred and feathered" from an angry crowd.

In an ages-old town where history is revered and tradition set in stone, Snow is giving a Fiesta lecture that might contradict a little bit of what people think they know.

It's not something you'd think of as earth-shaking -- just the contention that the Palace of the Governors in the 1600s and early 1700s was two stories tall and may have looked quite different in other ways from the "historic" reconstruction on display today.

If you go

WHAT: Santa Fe Fiesta lecture

TITLE: "A Palace in Need of Repair: 1660-1720"

WHO: Archaeologist Cordelia "Dedie" Thomas Snow

WHEN: 6 p.m. Wednesday

WHERE: Auditorium, New Mexico History Museum, 113 Lincoln Ave.


MORE INFO: 476-5200,

The Palace may have had a rustic colonnade, perhaps similar to its current exterior portal, lining both stories of the interior courtyard. An outer balcony may have looked out on the Plaza from the second floor.

A 1716 document describing the building also notes "if it weren't for nine buttresses, the Palace would have fallen down," Snow said in an interview. Those buttresses probably were mounded supports located at various points around the outside of the building, but she said she had no evidence of where they were.

Other archaeological evidence indicates rooms that extended beyond the current walls of the building. "It had a different footprint entirely," Snow said.

A historical archaeologist -- one who works with events after records began being kept -- Snow digs both through the earth and through documents, putting the two together to try to re-create earlier times. She works in the archaeological records management section of the state Department of Cultural Affairs.

She did excavations in 1974-75 when the building's flooring was being replaced, taking a peek at what lay underneath, she said. Other excavations followed in 1979 and again when the New Mexico History Museum was being built.

"I was like Alice in Wonderland falling down the rabbit hole," Snow said. "I had no idea what we were going to find ... . It was a revelation."

Among the finds were old storage pits that were used by Native Puebloans during the 1680-93 period of the Revolt -- they replaced the government structures with their own pueblo buildings then -- that were refilled with Spanish trash when those settlers returned, she said.

While the Galisteo and San Marcos peoples lived there, she said, there was evidence they subdivided the rooms and built fireplaces into the corners. "It was really quite fascinating," she said.

Another surprise dated to the pre-Revolt period.

"We uncovered adobe brick floors, which is a tremendous investment of labor," Snow said. "Before we uncovered those, the only adobe brick floors we were aware of (from that period) were out in Pecos, N.M., at the church and convento." Others have been uncovered in additional sites since then, she added.

"It's obvious they were trying to emulate the glazed tile floors of Mexico and Spain."

Also found under the Palace was evidence of a cobblestone foundation so wide that it probably supported a two-story structure, she said. That foundation can be seen through a windowed trap-door in the Palace today.

But that wasn't the only support for a second story, she said.

That 1715 document mentioned earlier, which was an inspection report of the state of the building, noted that the only second-story room that was usable was the chapel, according to Snow. It also refers to a well in the courtyard, which was dry at the time, she said.

In 1720, another document describes a burglary at the Palace. It tells of how Isidro Sanchez spied a second-story window that was open, actually begged a candle stub from an occupant of the guardhouse, then boosted himself from a first-floor window to a second-story balcony to enter that open window, Snow said. He then descended an interior stairway, lighting his way with the candle stub to the ground-floor storeroom and made off with a collection of goods, she said.

He made out so well -- although he was "deceived by the devil," according to the written records -- that he went back to try his luck the next evening, but later was caught, Snow said.

Other written records refer to a garden with roses, as well as an orchard east of the Palace. It probably had apricot and peach trees, which the Spanish introduced to this area, she said. "I've found the pits in my excavation," she added.

It should be no surprise, though, if the Spanish settlers brought plants with them from their home, just as it's likely they tried to emulate the architecture with which they were familiar.

"They didn't enter New Mexico and drop their culture," Snow said.


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Source: Albuquerque Journal (NM)

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