updated 9/29/2006 11:03:54 PM ET 2006-09-30T03:03:54

A Texas teenager has found what one archaeologist at the Gila Cliff Dwellings in southwestern New Mexico describes as a "pretty big deal."

Andrew Connell, 15, was on a hike with his classmates in the Gila Wilderness this spring when the group was distracted by what sounded like an owl. While looking for the bird, he spotted something among the rocks and oak leaves. It ended up being an almost intact prehistoric bowl that dates back to the time when the Mogollon people lived in the area.

"It's a pretty big deal. To find something intact where it's been for 1,000 years is pretty unusual," said Gila archaeologist Carol Telles.

Fellow archaeologist Gail Firebaugh-Smith said it has taken some time to announce the find, which sheds some light on the lives of the Mogollon people.

"The fact that it is so complete and that we are able to reconstruct it is so important," she said, noting that the location where the bowl was found tells archaeologists how far the Mogollon would travel from the cliff dwellings for daily work.

After Connell spotted the bowl under a rock wall, trip leaders suggested they return the bowl to the niche and report the find to the visitor center. The group took GPS coordinates, sketched a map and took photos.

Telles said visitors often bring artifacts to the visitor center, ruining any chance for archaeologists to interpret the artifact in its original setting.

Firebaugh-Smith said the bowl, now at the Gila National Forest's office in Silver City, will be researched, reconstructed and likely displayed in a museum or exhibit.

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