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In 1952, the construction of U.S. Highway 285 cut through the edge of the prehistoric village of Howiri. Two years later, with the damage to Howiri as an example, Dr. Fred Wendorf of the Museum of New Mexico convinced highway officials to support the study of archaeological sites in advance of road construction. The Museum provided trained personnel to survey project areas and supervise excavations with Department of Transportation labor and equipment used as needed.

The first excavations took place in May 1954 at a small pueblo site on old Route 66 east of Gallup. This early work was called "salvage archaeology," because archaeologists worked immediately ahead of construction. The pace of investigation was hectic. Archaeologists attempted to recover as much information as possible from sites, while trying not to delay construction. Frequently, they watched as bulldozers cleared the earth, and would quickly record sites and collect artifacts as they were uncovered. During those early years, the focus was on fieldwork, with little time or funding to complete laboratory analyses or reports.

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Dr. Fred Wendorf, the Museum's first highway archaeologist, outside the Laboratory of Anthropology, ca. 1960.

Location of the first Highway Archaeology excavations along old Route 66.