Arizona is one of the most archaeological-rich states in the nation. Many parks and monuments around the state feature ruins and cliff dwellings along with museums and artifacts. If you live in New River, Cave Creek, or Black Canyon City, there are probably Indian ruins within walking distance of your home. Some of us have even found arrowheads and potsherds right in our own backyards. Next month will be "Arizona Archaeology Awareness Month" in honor of the earliest inhabitants of our state. Everyone is encouraged to visit some archaeological sites and learn more about Arizona's ancient peoples.
New River's Archaeological Treasures
The land around New River is covered with prehistoric Indian ruins and archaeological sites. Many of these sites are located at the southwest corner of the Tonto National Forest. This transition zone between the lower and upper deserts was the northern periphery of Hohokam culture. The settlement sites in this region are mostly small, widely diverse, and informally organized. The inhabitants were probably in contact with the larger Hohokam villages in the Salt and Gila River Valleys.
Hohokam Indians began settling the New River area around 600-800 AD (at the time of the Vikings). The major occupation of the region took place between 1000-1250 AD (the beginning of the Middle Ages). Hohokams lived along the Agua Fria River until approximately 1450 AD (the end of the Middle Ages). By around 1450 AD, this entire area along with the rest of central Arizona had been abandoned.
The rivers generally ran more often back in those days than they do now, although they were still dry at times. Additional water sources consisted of springs, and digging down into washes when the rivers weren't running. Our local Hohokams did not dig canals, but built extensive dam and terrace systems to utilize rainwater.
The Agua Fria River had agricultural sites where the Indians grew agave and corn on terraces. There were large agricultural fields along the New River, where corn and cotton were grown in flooded fields. Farming fields were also located along Skunk Creek. Smaller fields were scattered throughout the region.
Diets were supplemented with wild animals and plants. These included saguaro, prickly pear, and cholla cacti; mesquite, palo verde, and ironwood trees; deer, rabbit, and bighorn sheep.
Outcroppings of basalt, rhyolite, and slate/shale were used for tools and building materials. Stone was the most common building material due to its abundant supply.
Were hilltop rock structures forts, retreats, or habitations? There is not enough evidence left to tell much about them. Most appear to have been constructed for defensive purposes, while some were occupied at least temporarily as well. They provided views of drainages, agricultural fields, roaming animal herds, settlements, and other hilltop sites.
Prescott College began locating and surveying archaeological sites around New River by helicopter in the late 1960's, followed by extensive ground surveys and excavations from 1971-1976. These sites consist of the remains of walls that formed rooms, plazas spread over several acres, water control/field systems, terraces, rock borders, artifact scatter, and petroglyphs.
Did You Know…?
Agave plants are evidence of the ancient Indians. Murpheyi agave is not native to the area, but the local Indians imported and cultivated it. Some of the Indians' agave plants continue to grow in the area. Agave was used for fibers and for food.
Searching for Archaeological Clues
To survey an area for archaeological evidence, get a group of people together, then spread out and walk single file. Look at the ground for unusual rock formations, rocks that appear different from surrounding rocks, potsherds, arrowheads, clay spindles, stone tools, hollowed out stones, depressions, petroglyphs, patches of agave plants, and cleared areas surrounded by rock borders.
Preserving and Protecting Archaeological Resources
Archaeological sites and artifacts are fragile treasures that should not be disturbed, so they can remain for future generations to study and enjoy. By following some simple guidelines, you can minimize impacts on archaeological sites and help preserve these unique and irreplaceable remnants from the past.
Archaeological sites on public lands are protected by the Archaeological Resources Protection Act. Federal and state laws prohibit digging, removing artifacts, damaging, and/or defacing archaeological resources. These laws provide for both felony and misdemeanor prosecution with imprisonment and fines. Witnesses to pot hunting or vandalism should note the location of the activity, and record descriptions of persons and vehicles seen. Take photographs if you can, and report it as soon as possible by calling 1-800-VANDALS.
Agua Fria National Monument
The 71,100-acre Agua Fria National Monument contains some of the most extensive prehistoric ruins in the Southwest. Extending from Black Canyon City to Cordes Junction, the monument encompasses two mesas (Perry Mesa and Black Mesa), the public land to the north of these mesas, and the Agua Fria River canyon. At least 450 archaeological sites, including rock pueblos, are known to exist in this area. Many intact petroglyph sites within the monument contain rock art symbols etched into the surfaces of boulders and cliff faces. The area also has a significant array of prehistoric agricultural features, including extensive terraces bounded by lines of rocks and other landscape modifications. In addition, the monument includes historic sites that represent early Anglo-American history through the 19th century, such as remnants of Basque sheep camps, old mining and military sites. Besides its valuable record of human history, the monument holds a rich diversity of sensitive vegetative communities and native wildlife species. Unfortunately, this unique region on the northern edge of the rapidly expanding Phoenix metropolitan area has already suffered from a considerable amount of vandalism. For Agua Fria National Monument facts & photos, go to: www.az.blm.gov/pmesa.htm.
Archaeology Month Events
Museums, historical societies, tribes, parks, and archaeological organizations across the state will all be hosting archeology events during the month of March. A free listing of Arizona Archaeology Month events as well as brochures on archaeological sites in the state of Arizona—complete with descriptions, hours of operation, directions, and a map—can be obtained by calling the Arizona State Parks State Historic Preservation Office at 602-542-4174, or by e-mail: email@example.com. Archaeology Month information can also be found on their website at www.pr.state.az.us. Some of the more well-known archeological parks and monuments include: Canyon de Chelly, Casa Grande, Montezuma Castle, Tonto National Monument, Tuzigoot National Monument, Walnut Canyon, and Wupatki National Monument. For links to these and more, go to: http://www.knowledgehouse.info/azfield_parks.html.
Cave Creek Museum
This museum has an excellent exhibit on local Native Americans; artifacts from the Hohokam, Yavapai, and Apache Indians; and gift shop with additional resources. 6140 E. Skyline Dr., Cave Creek, 480-488-2764, www.azcama.com/museums/cave_creek_museum.htm.
Deer Valley Rock Art Center
The mission of the Deer Valley Rock Art Center is to preserve and to provide public access to the Hedgpeth Hills petroglyph site, to interpret the cultural expressions found there, and to be a center for rock art studies. Visit their website at www.asu.edu/clas/anthropology/dvrac for petroglyph facts, photos, resources, and activities.
Arizona Archaeological Society
The Arizona Archaeological Society was founded in 1964 to foster interest and research in the archaeology of Arizona; to encourage better public understanding and concern for archaeological and cultural resources; and, to protect antiquities by discouraging exploitation of archaeological resources. They offer inexpensive classes, seminars and field schools to increase knowledge and improve the skills of members in the disciplines of archaeology. They encourage anyone, from age 12 and up, who has an interest in archaeology and the prehistory of Arizona and the Southwest to attend their monthly meetings. Admission is free to guests. They have a Desert Foothills chapter. Visit their website at: www.azarchsoc.org.
Prehistoric Cultural Development in Central Arizona: Archaeology of the Upper New River Region, by Patricia M. Spoerl and George J. Gumerman, 1984. Center for Archaeological Investigations, Southern Illinois University at Carbondale. Occasional Paper No. 5; 379 pp.
Hohokam Settlement and Economic Systems in the Central New River Drainage, Arizona, edited by David E. Doyel and Mark D. Elson, 1985. Soil Systems Publications in Archaeology No. 4. Phoenix. (Two-volume report on the excavation of 20 Hohokam sites in the New River Drainage. Complete analyses and interpretations, including ground stone manufacturing sites, the New River-Palo Verde Community system, Hohokam settlement and subsistence systems in the northern periphery, and exchange and interaction with other areas.)
Hohokam Prehistory in the Central New River Drainage, Arizona, by David E. Doyel, 1986. (Popular report summarizing the findings of SSPA Number 4. Places the New River project into a regional perspective and summarizes the Hohokam occupation of the Phoenix Basin.) Contact: Cory Dale Breternitz, President, Soil Systems, Inc. 1121 North Second Street, Phoenix, Arizona 85004, firstname.lastname@example.org, (602) 253-4938, (602) 253-0107 fax.
Prehistory of Perry Mesa: The Short-Lived Settlement of a Mesa-Canyon Complex in Central Arizona, ca. A.D. 1200-1400, by Richard V.N. Ahlstrom and Heidi Roberts, 1994. SWCA Archaeological Report No. 94-48. Tucson. Contact: Richard V.N. Ahlstrom, SWCA, Inc. 343 S. Scott Ave. Tucson, AZ 85701, (520) 325-9194, (520) 325-2125 fax.
Cave Creek and Carefree, Arizona: A History of the Desert Foothills by Frances C. Carlson. (The best book for the general public on the history of this area.)
Carefree/Cave Creek Foothills: Life in the Sonoran Sun by the Foothills Community Foundation, 1990. (Provides a great deal of interesting information about the area's flora, fauna, history, geology and lifestyle, including an informative chapter about the ancient Indians.)
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