Leonard, Banks


(1959 - 2021 Dec 3): Age 62

Leonard Banks died after a long illness while a senior archaeologist and co-principal investigator at the Office of Contract Archaeology, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, an office he joined in 2012. He received a B.A. in Anthropology from the University of Arizona and an M.A. from UCLA. Most he recently he worked at the Valles Caldera, Petroglyph National Monument, and New Mexico Army National Guard sites throughout the state. He has worked on or directed archaeological field projects in the southwestern and southeastern United States, in California, and in both highland and coastal Peru (see below). He also has experience in linguistic and ethnographic research, and university teaching. Mr. Leonard authored or coauthored numerous technical reports, conference papers, journal articles, articles in edited volumes, and articles for popular science publications and has also appeared in television documentaries about work he has undertaken. For over half his career he has worked in the Southwest, including large-scale excavations at sites belonging to Archaic, Hohokam, Prescott, Mogollon, and Ancestral Puebloan cultures in Arizona, Archaic, Formative, and historic Navajo sites in New Mexico, a landmark study of prehistoric cannibalism in southwestern Colorado, and prehistoric and historic sites in the Junta de Los Rios region of Trans-Pecos Texas." Banks was a widely-published consummate researcher and wonderful colleague.


Professional Achievements and Accomplishments:

Banks Leonard worked for Cory Breternitz’s Soil Systems, Inc. (SSI) for 12 years between the summer of 1996 and the fall of 2008. During this time, he served as a Crew Chief and Project Director for 34+ projects, authored and co-authored 109 Soil Systems Technical Reports and contributed major chapters to four Soil Systems Publications in Archaeology. Banks presented papers on SSI projects at local, regional, and national conferences including the Arizona Archaeological Council, the New Mexico Archaeological Council, Pecos Conference, the Society for American Archaeology, American Anthropological Association, and others. He published papers as an author and co-author appeared in American Antiquity, Nature, and other regional, national, and international journals.

In 1996 as a Crew Chief on the Ute Mountain Ute Irrigated Lands Archaeological Project (UMULAP) based in Cortez, Colorado Banks was the Crew Chief responsible for the excavation of 5MT10010, often referred to as the Cowboy Wash Site, where irrefutable evidence for cannibalism occurred. It was due to Banks attention to detail and careful provenience of artifacts on the floor of a Pueblo II pit structure that provided the context for specialized analyses that characterized the events that took place in the pit structure were without doubt. The 11-year period between 1997 and 2008 Banks served as the Senior Project Director for SSI on projects in the Phoenix metropolitan area and throughout the state of Arizona. These included large projects for private developers that contained multiple sites spanning the Archaic to Historic time frame; DC Ranch, Verrado, SW Germann, StoneRidge, and Pueblo Grande. Banks skillfully directed multiple crews in the field, post-field analyses, both in-house, and outside consultants, and report writing. Transportation related projects directed by Banks included highway rights-of way clearance for the Arizona Department of Transportation and the Federal Highways Administration. In addition to these large, multi-year surveys, testing, and data recovery projects Banks also supervised numerous smaller surveys, testing, and data recovery projects throughout Arizona.

On the larger projects Banks coordinated interdisciplinary research teams in all aspects of project execution from logistics and budgeting to research design, data interpretation, synthetic analysis, and document preparation. The specialist whose efforts he supervised and coordinated included ceramic analysts, lithic analysts, zooarchaeologists, archaeobotanists, geomorphologists, palynologists, denrochonologists, surveyors, radiometric analysts, and human osteologists as well as heavy equipment operators and construction engineers. A large part of his job at SSI was supervising the excavation of over 1,000 human burials; the analysis of the remains, and coordination with Native American communities with regard to their treatment and repatriation. Banks also assisted in the repatriation and reburial of human remains and associated artifacts.

PanAmerican Consultants Inc. (2009-2011)

Following his time at Soil Systems, Inc., Banks headed back to Memphis with his family to be closer to his roots. During these post-Soil Systems years, Banks served as a Senior Archaeologist at Panamerican Consultants, Inc. where he performed the duties of Project Director and Principal Investigator. It was during this time that Banks developed his portfolio of federal projects working for the US Army Corps of Engineers, Federal Highways Administration, Department of Energy, and US International Boundary and Water Commission as well as several state agencies throughout the South. Banks also was able to do what he would often remark was the most rewarding part of his job – developing and working with large interdisciplinary teams.

Office of Contract Archeology, University of New Mexico (2012-2021)

While he enjoyed being close to family and Memphis’s culinary treasures, the Southwest beckoned for him to return. In 2012, Banks brought his family, Indigo and Julian, to the University of New Mexico to begin his new position as a Principal Investigator/Project Director at the Office of Contract Archeology. At OCA/UNM, Banks’ unique blend of a critical academic perspective and career in Cultural Resource Management quickly made him an indispensable member of the team where, within the first two years, he restructured OCA/UNM’s methods for collecting lithic data, helped redesign the artifact recording database, and was integral in developing a technology-forward approach to in-field data collection.

Banks’ love of “really big projects” also led him to take on a herculean cultural resources inventory of the Valles Caldera. Spanning 6 years, Banks was able to oversee multiple crews surveying several thousand acres for the National Park Service, documenting one of the most significant obsidian source areas of the Southwest. It was during this project that Banks’ grounding in methods, standardization of data collection, and emphasis on strong writing skills were put to use in mentoring dozens of undergraduate and graduate students and developing future field technicians and crew chiefs.

Banks’ other academic passion of engrossing himself in legal and bureaucratic discussions also made him perfectly suited for his other primary focus at OCA, working with agencies to develop management plans. During his tenure at OCA, Banks helped guide the New Mexico National Guard’s planning by developing and implementing their Integrated Cultural Resource Management Plan. At his untimely passing, Banks had begun also working with the NPS Petroglyphs National Monument to develop their Archaeological Resources Management Plan.

Banks’ Legacy

During his career Banks had a positive influence on hundreds of field technicians and laboratory analysts and served to mentor many young archaeologists who have continued to advance in the profession and now serve in supervisor capacities for private CRM firms, state and federal agencies, and as professors. In addition to his superb field and analytical skills, coordinating multiple field crews, heavy equipment and his ability to think three moves ahead, Banks was a talented linguist, fluent in Spanish and with a working knowledge of the other Romance Languages, Navajo, Zuni, and Quechua.

His superb skills and passion for archaeology were only eclipsed by his love and devotion to Indigo and Julian, his passion for fishing, and the never-ending pursuit of discovering the next best hole-in-the-wall eatery with Julian. The thrill of pursuing and landing the big one provided the basis for many adventures and incredible stories, and as Julian grew older the stories gradually transitioned to the joy he found in watching Julian land the “big one”.

Throughout Banks’ career, he often took the humble path. Rather than promoting himself, Banks was known for promoting the development and visibility of those around him and those he mentored. I often view Banks’ legacy as one measured not in the large body of work that he left behind, but in the great number of students, mentees, and colleagues that he helped make better archaeologists and researchers along the way. From his methodical data collection at Cowboy Wash that spurred an entire paradigm shift in Southwestern Archaeology that still resonates today fully 25 years after it was excavated to his work at the Valles Caldera where his training of numerous students and mentees will carry on his emphasis on sound data collection, Banks’ legacy will leave an indelible mark on Southwestern archaeology.

Thanks to Evan Kay, Carla Sinopoli, and Rusty Greaves (Maxwell Museum & OCA)


Recent Posts

See All