M. The Persistence of the Sixties: Countercultural Archaeologies

Organizers: Severin Fowles (Barnard) and Kaet Heupel (Columbia)

Saturday, May 7th
1:30 – 6:30
Kroeber 160

In 1967, the New Buffalo Commune was founded in rural New Mexico as a principled experiment in the reinvention of American society. Drawing energy from the radicalism of the 1960s counterculture, those who came to stay at New Buffalo deployed political protest, spiritual revival, back-to-the-land agriculture, primitivism, communalism, Hippie aesthetics, drugs, sex and exuberant naïveté as strategies to escape the war, consumerism, industrialization, patriarchy and restrictive cultural norms of mainstream society. The result was a lifestyle that was part cultural critique, part manifesto, and part theater; and while New Buffalo’s particular experiment did not survive the 1970s intact, it helped define a historical moment that continues to give shape to many persistent forms of American activism today.

In 2009, archaeologists from Columbia University came to New Buffalo to participate in the efforts of its owner, Bob Fies, and current residents to construct a “new New Buffalo” based upon reasserted principles of environmental sustainability, social communalism, education, and spirituality. The archaeological contribution to this project has been to excavate portions of the original commune as a springboard for fresh conversations about the successes, failures, struggles, and ongoing significance of the 60s counterculture in northern New Mexico. The result has been an archaeology of the contemporary past that is part cultural critique, part manifesto, and part theater.

This session brings together the project’s archaeologists as well as past and current members of New Buffalo for a collective conversation about the site, its heritage, and the future of American activism.


Countercultural archaeologies

Severin Fowles, Barnard Colleges, fowles@barnard.edu and Kaet Heupel (Columbia)

The archaeology of a 1960s hippie commune runs the risk of illegitimacy on two grounds. First, its embarrassing lack of antiquity: how is one to muster the classically archaeological sense of communion with the alterity of past when the past is comprised of oil cans, garden hoses, and plastic Wonderbread bags? Second, the embarrassing whiteness and affluence of its subjects: how to take seriously a fleeting experiment in primitive anti-capitalism and voluntary poverty authored by primarily well-educated upper-middle-class college drop-outs from New York and California? Here, we embrace, rather than apologize for, such illegitimacy, emphasizing its critical potential.

New Buffalo, Now and Then

Bob Fies, New Buffalo Community, bobfies@taosnet.com

New Buffalo has lived many lives. In this paper, Bob Fies, the current owner of the property, offers a personal consideration of the site’s history, its present refashioning, and the persistent need to create alternative spaces outside of the capitalism, consumerism and spiritual poverty of mainstream modern society. Having now been transformed to an energy-sufficient working farm, New Buffalo is poised to serve as a living laboratory and teaching center for reinventing a respectful and successful American way of life. Mr. Fies presents a vision of what this will entail.

Scrapbook of a Taos hippie

Iris Keltz, New Buffalo Commune, irisk13@earthlink.net & Kaet Heupel, Columbia University

In this paper, Iris Keltz (author, historian and former occupant of New Buffalo) joins a project archaeologist to explore the rich oral histories that surround the commune. In doing so, they consider the selectivity of memories about New Buffalo, the interpenetration of national and local histories of the Sixties, and the possibility of objects as well as words to serve as repositories for understandings of the recent past.

Excavating images: Archaeological photography at New Buffalo

Elizabeth Angell, Columbia University, eangell@gmail.com

Archaeologies of the contemporary past partake of contemporary practices of representation and mediation, given the availability—or inescapability—of a photographic archive of the period, and through the documentation (formal and otherwise) of archaeological research in a range of media. This presentation considers the role of photography in the play of methods on the New Buffalo project. It examines how iconic photographs of counterculture life in the 1960s and 1970s functioned as artifacts and aide-mémoires during the 2010 field season, and explores the aesthetics of archaeological practice through a series of photographs documenting excavation work and everyday encounters at New Buffalo.

Digging the Sixties

Kaet Heupel, Columbia University, keh2131@columbia.edu

The American counterculture of the 1960s was, among other things, a media event, filled with iconic images of hippies, “happenings”, drugs and protest marches. Such images make it familiar territory, even for those of us too young to have lived it. The New Buffalo Archaeological Project seeks to make this familiar past unfamiliar through the excavation and analysis of the remains of one of the era’s best-known experiments in community-building. This paper reports on the excavations to-date, our plans for the coming years, and the relationship of the site to an emerging archaeology of the contemporary past more generally.

Hippies as Indians and Artifacts

Lindsay Montgomery, Stanford University, lmmontgo@stanford.edu

This paper engages Phillip Deloria’s recent analysis of the linkages between “playing Indian” and American national identity through a consideration of the New Buffalo excavations. Here, the “natives” being analyzed by the archaeologist are not Indians themselves but Anglos who, to a greater or lesser degree, were mimicking Indians through their use of tipis, kivas, sweat lodges, moccasins, and drums. This core irony—in which Anglo archaeologists who typically study Indians now study the way other Anglos studied Indians—is unsettling in productive ways that push our understanding of an “indigenous archaeology” into new and more critically engaged realms.

The Stone Age in Light of the Stoned Age

Severin Fowles, Barnard College, sfowles@barnard.edu

It goes without saying that knowing something about American Indian traditions is basic to an understanding of the countercultural project of the 1960s in northern New Mexico. Communes like New Buffalo drew heavily upon native spirituality and aesthetics. But does the study of these students of Native America tell us anything about Native America itself? Against the obvious answer, I suggest, first, that the philosophical affinity between Hippies and Indians may be deeper than typically acknowledged and, second, that the Hippies have much to tell us about countercultural movements and the evolution of voluntary simplicity in Native American prehistory.

Destroy the Hippies! An Archaeology of the Chicano-Hippie War

Albert Gonzalez, Southern Methodist University, ag3113@columbia.edu

Author John Nichols’s first drive through the town of Taos in 1969 brought him across a prominently displayed banner commanding locals to “DESTROY THE HIPPIES.”  His arrival, it seems, coincided with the earliest acts of northern New Mexico’s little-known Chicano-Hippie War.  Former commune residents confirm Nichols’s depiction, describing even routine trips to town as having eventually become armed ventures.  I aim to explore this extreme of Hispano-Hippie relations, fitting the “war” within regional historical context and considering the objects of war-making (banners in town, pistols at the market) from the perspective of materiality studies.

On beer, bras, and breast cream (or, what the counterculture threw away)

Annie Danis, Barnard College, annie.danis@gmail.com

In the 1960s and 70s countercultural communities like New Buffalo drew members on the promise of less stuff and more spirit. But like all people before and since, the people of New Buffalo left their material trails—strewn not only with seeds, songs, and burlap sacks of lentils, but also beer cans, scabies medication, and discarded library cards. As part of the New Buffalo Archaeological Project, the 2010 excavation of a midden from the late 1960s and early 1970s offers complex insight into the commune’s relationship to and participation in consumable culture.

Mandate to Create / From Dystopian Detritus

Joe Frustaci, New Buffalo Community, frustaciart@gmail.com

“Fundamentals of creation. Joy. Mandate to create. From dystopian detritus.” Archaeological excavation selectively exhumes, reassembles, and recodes found objects from the past, making meaning out of the material clutter that surrounds us. As such, its method betrays a close kinship with much artistic production. In this presentation, Joe Frustaci (resident artist at New Buffalo) reports on his creative collaborations with project archaeologists making new sculptures out of the artifactual trash excavated during the project.

Clockpunk Earthships: Recycling Material and the Counterculture

Michelle Rosales, Columbia University, mjr2162@gmail.com

Earthships, employing a home design based on recycling materials, aspire to trace the ultimate trajectory of sustainability. Earthships are entanglements of commune living from the 1960s: countercultural ideals of escape and re-creation work alongside anti-communal concepts of ownership and expansion. Processes of earthship-making, as structure and home, employ technological mediations of the body, tapping into the biology and energy of the earth and the inhabitant. This hybridization collapses the binary of past and future within an architecture that reuses and re-creates material and ideology. This paper explores how the ‘biotecture’ of the earthship weaves through dominant and countercultural practices.

Farming on Mars

Andrew Heinrich, New Buffalo Community, brighty18@hotmail.com, & Hannah Kligman

Farming at New Buffalo was and is like squeezing blood from a stone. Like many Amish farmers who have adopted agriculturally marginal landscapes as part of a spiritual project, however, those who have worked the land in northern New Mexico have frequently done so for more than merely economic reasons. In this paper, Andrew Heinrich (New Buffalo’s resident gardener) joins a project archaeologist in focusing on the role of food production and the philosophy of sustainability in the 1960s counterculture, in the modern permaculture movement, and in the new society that may be needed in the future.

My Experiences as Cultural Revolutionary

Robbie Gordon, New Buffalo Community, (no email. Please contact through sfowles@barnard.edu)

In the mid-Sixties many of us saw the American world splintering. So much seemed wrong—foremost the Vietnam War—and we felt it was up to us to do something. Along with others, however, I found anger and protest to be part of the problem. Wars went on, beloved leaders fell to bullets, and people grew angrier. The commune movement was our solution. Our aim: to develop a life without strife or inequality. We knew we needed help. The New Buffalo was founded in honor of the Pueblo traditions. Our slogan, cliché, and joke was “Old way, good way.”