Ask Matt Liebmann about the best parts of his work, and he’ll tell you two things.
First, he’ll talk about the sheer beauty of where it happens: New Mexico, with its skyscraping mountains, hidden caves, and waterfalls cutting through the dry heat, all surrounded by an ocean of orange earth and sand.
Then, there are his partners, the people of the Jemez, an indigenous American tribe that has lived on this land in the north-central part of the state for more than 800 years, their rich history and oral tradition wedded to the terrain itself.
That history, though, is one that has been distinctly colored — and oftentimes buried — after Europeans arrived and wrote their own stories, with themselves at the center. As an archaeologist, Liebmann has spent the past 20 years doing research alongside the people of Jemez Pueblo, giving fresh life to the details of tribal stories through digs around their native territory.
“We’re trying to get the view from the indigenous side — how native people experienced the same tumultuous period,” he said, speaking about the work.
Liebmann began his relationship with the tribe as a graduate student, and since then has gained a deep understanding of why the history needs to be revisited and the sites shown the respect they deserve, especially given the difficult history between archaeologists and native peoples.