Hohokam dig ends in Continental

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Hohokam dig ends in Continental

Post Number:#1  Postby LarryKS » Sun May 01, 2011 7:35 pm

Just steps away from a Green Valley storage center lies a hidden treasure - an 800-year-old archeological site once occupied by the prehistoric Hohokam people.

Archeologists hired by the Pima County Department of Transportation have been excavating the site along Whitehouse Canyon road since late March and ended the dig Tuesday after collecting more than 500 artifacts.

The research team was called out to excavate the area before it is paved as part of a county road-widening project, set to begin later this year. PCDOT said the project will add 6-foot bike lanes on either side of the road, from Continental Road to the Continental School area. A separate paved, multi-use path will run between the school and the Madera Shadows subdivision.

The digging site will be filled up in a few weeks; until then, the area will be periodically patrolled by a Sheriff's deputy.

Archeologist Allen Dart, project director for EcoPlan Associates Inc., and executive director of the Old Pueblo Archeology Center in Tucson, said he and his crew will eventually hand the artifacts over to the Arizona State Museum at the University of Arizona for research.

However, he said finding museum-quality artifacts such as pottery or stone tools is not the main purpose of an excavation.

"That's a misconception many people have," Dart said. "What we're really looking for are settlement patterns and how this site relates to other sites in the area. We want to see how these people lived."

The Continental Hohokam Site was discovered in 1953, and consists of at least 56 Hohokam house ruins dating to about 1200, Dart said. They are located east of Continental Road and the Santa Cruz River, many of them on Tucson Electric Power substation property.

The recent excavation entailed work on four Hohokam dwellings, known as "pit houses," along the south side of Whitehouse Canyon Road. Three are in front of Madera Plaza; one is near Green Valley Self Storage.

Pit houses were wood and brush dwellings built in pits dug one or two feet into the earth, which helped inhabitants keep cool in the region's harsh climate. They varied in size and were normally grouped in clusters, as is the case the four found here.

At first glance, the excavation site may not appear to be much more than a few holes in the ground. But a closer look reveals that those holes are 800-year-old fire pits, or post holes that secured the structure beams of the dwelling. Dart said ash in the soil and cracked stones nearby reveal that the structures had been destroyed by fire.

Ironically, that fire helped preserve one of the rarer artifacts at the site - a mat woven out of reeds collected from the nearby river banks. The mat is an exciting find because in-tact specimens are few and far between. Burning carbonizes and preserves organic materials that would decay under normal circumstances. Dart said the mat was probably hung up over the entryway to keep out dust and functioned as a curtain.

Other artifacts found include a carved stone pendant, stone axe head, sharp pieces of rock used for cutting, a spindle-whorl for weaving, and several well-preserved pottery shards.

Those artifacts date from 1150 to 1200, but retired archeologist Paul Frick, a Green Valley resident who discovered the Continental Hohokam Site more than 50 years ago while working on his master's thesis at the University of Arizona, says he found some artifacts, such as a spear-thrower, that dated as far as 500 B.C.

Frick discovered the site while exploring the stretch of river bank from Sahuarita to Tubac, when much of the area was still undeveloped ranch land. Artifacts found on the surface clued him in to the large settlement buried beneath, he said.

While the Hohokam would move up to the base of the Sierrita and Santa Rita mountains during the summer, he said they spent most of the year along the river, which at that time had a consistent flow of water.

More than 100 archeological sites have been discovered in the Green Valley area, according to Arizona State Museum records.

"Part of what makes Green Valley a great place to live is its association with the Santa Cruz River Valley," said Loy Neff, a program manager in the county's Cultural Resources and Historic Preservation Office. "The Hohokam liked living here for the same reason."

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