Living on the Los Alamos Plateau always brings forth curiosities, but some of the biggest ones are our local Ancestral Puebloan Sites. No matter where you are in town you will be within a several hundred-foot proximity to ones of these sites, or at least where one used to be. Excavations and preservation efforts have been conducted in Los Alamos for over 100 years.
One of the largest sites within our county is the Ancestral Puebloan Site named Otowi, also claimed to have been called Potsuwi’I which means ‘gap where the water sinks’. Acquired from some old newspaper publications, one of the first excavations of this location started in 1915 by a woman named Lucy Langdon Williams Wilson. She was the principal of a school in Philadelphia and her husband ran the Philadelphia Commercial Museum. With some basic paperwork and a 3-year governmental permit, they set out west to excavate Otowi.
According to the newspaper articles, Mrs. Wilson excavated in the Otowi site and the immediate surroundings and found more than 250 rooms, many cavates, several ceremonial kivas, multiple artifacts, and more than 50 skeletons. Some of these items were placed together and catalogued at the Philadelphia Commercial Museum for eventual exhibition. Her dig reports, that were required as part of the permissions to excavate Otowi, were claimed to have been lost in the mail with no copies.
The excavations were also aided by many outside parties, such as Crescencio Martinez (Maria Martinez’s brother-in-law), a film maker/documenter, and a few well-known archaeologists that worked on other major sites around the world.
The land on which Otowi stands has transferred ownership many times in the decades since Mrs. Wilson’s excavations. For some time Otowi was in the same land tract as Tsankawi and part of the Bandelier National Monument. Several preservation efforts and other excavations were completed before and after the war, but the site has remained mostly off limits since President Kennedy ordered the trade of the land with Bandelier National Monument for the benefit of the AEC. The White House had claimed that Otowi contained no significant archaeological values.
Today this site remains mostly unseen and buried within the boundary lines of the San Ildefonso Reservation. Although some of the smaller, lesser-known surrounding sites reside in the Los Alamos County property boundaries and some DOE plots. The Philadelphia Commercial Museum rebranded in the 1950s, eventually closed in 1994, and most of the collections were dispersed to organizations throughout the city.
These articles are written by the Los Alamos Historical Society Staff. Many of these articles were originally published by the