A group of seventh-graders exploring caves in a rural stretch of New Mexico stumbled upon a pot that could be 900 years old.
The teenagers, who were on a class field trip, discovered the Native American pot on New Mexico Bureau of Land Management land, which has been heavily scoured by scientists. The last archeological find in the area, filled with sand dunes and grasslands, was a decade ago.
The pot, which is 18 inches in length and about 15 inches wide, was found while a teacher was shining a light in a dark cave.
"One of the teachers was showing a light and it caught something bright near the floor, I looked down and it was this pot underneath a bunch of rocks," Anthony Schoepke, a computer and filmmaking teacher at Sandia Prep Middle/ High School, told the Gallup Independent. "One of the parents on the trip had a lot of knowledge of the artifact law and Native American pots and we all agreed not to touch it, or try to remove it, and to notify authorities."
State officials aren't revealing the artifact until they consult nearby pueblos.
"It was like a gray pot, with zig-zag stripes and dash patterns all the way going around it," seventh-grader Isabel Jerome told KOAT-TV. "Yeah, it was a really incredible find."
Teachers immediately contacted U.S. National Park Service representatives who then contacted the Bureau of Land Management.
This week, BLM archeologists removed the pot. They estimate the age to be 800 to 1,000 years old because of clues from the pot: size, shape and design on the pot, and comparisons to other artifacts already dated.
"None of this is an exact science, but BLM archeologists are telling me, when finding a pottery shard, it's hard to determine because of its small size and not being intact," Stephen Baker, BLM public affairs, told the Gallup Independent. "Because the pot is nearly intact we get a lot of clues and because of other archaeological studies that have been done, can look at it and determine what research tells them, and can estimate its place in history."
The last significant discovery on New Mexico Bureau of Land Management land was a decade ago.
Schoepke, one of the three who discovered the pot, said it was found while 75 seventh-grade students from the school, including some Polish seventh-graders on an exchange trip, were exploring caves. The field trip was part of the Outdoor Leadership program at the school.
He described the pot as being cream colored with a complicated design of diagonal lines in either black or dark brown.
Donna Hummel of the BLM said the find could be unique and the students may not fully understand its importance. "This is very significant. We hope they appreciate that this could be a once in a lifetime discovery," said Humme.
When told that the pot could be around 900-years-old, students expressed amazement.
"That's crazy. I think we were probably some of the first people to see so that's really cool," seventh-grader Cole Schoepke said.
There are 13 million acres of New Mexico Bureau of Land Management land.
Based on reporting by The Associated Press.