Saturday, January 10, 2009

Ancient village found on U.S.-Mexico border

'Gateway community' uncovered during preparations for fence

Sierra Vista Herald
January 9, 2009

TUBAC — The construction of the fence along the U.S.-Mexico border in 2007 led to the find of a prehistoric village east of the San Pedro River.

Some of those findings were presented Thursday evening to the Tubac/Santa Cruz County Chapter of the Arizona Archaeological Society. Twenty people attended the event.“The San Pedro is a special place,” said archaeologist Maren Hopkins, the project director.

Hopkins said the village was probably the biggest data recovery project that she has directed. The 27-year-old has been digging for 10 years in many places in Arizona, New Mexico and Mexico.

Evidence found at the “Upper San Pedro Village” indicates that it was a crossroads, or a type of “gateway community,” said Hopkins, who works for Northland Research Inc., which has offices in Flagstaff, Tempe and Tucson.

“It’s sort of an area that’s on the periphery of a lot of other areas that we do understand,” Hopkins said. “It’s a peripheral site to the Tucson Basin … it’s peripheral to all these areas. So these people were kind of a mix of people. It was frontier then, just like it is now.”

The village is believed to have existed from around A.D. 700 to 1200, Hopkins said, based on ceramics analysis. There appear to be some Hohokam characteristics, but it is yet uncertain exactly who lived there.

Archaeologists found 23 pit houses, 14 possible pit houses, 97 thermal pits, a number of storage pits, five dog burials and 69 human burials. As is customary in this region, the human remains have all been repatriated to the Tohono O’Odham Indian Reservation.There was an interesting artifact found at the site that Hopkins had not seen before. She calls it a “stone jaw bone.” It has a serrated edge, and she firmly believes it was used for scraping animal hides. Several of these implements were found at the site, which also yielded “more deer bone than I’ve ever seen in my life,” she said.

Westland was contracted to do archaeological work for the U.S. Corps of Army Engineers and the U.S. Department Homeland Security so the agencies could comply with federal archaeological laws. In October 2007, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff pushed ahead with the fence, winning federal court approval of his waiving of environmental restrictions.

“It is a sensitive subject,” Hopkins said of the border politics.

She told the Tubac archaeology society how complicated her work was because of the numerous government and private agencies involved. Those included ranchers on the U.S. and Mexican sides, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife, and the Arizona National Guard, just to name a few.She described how one time “the No. 2 guy” from Homeland Security flew to the San Pedro River archaeological site in a Black Hawk helicopter and asked the scientists, “Are you OK?”

At that moment, some of the nearby Mexican ranchers were delivering a plateful of delicious tacos, which the archaeologists had become accustomed to. The Homeland Security official asked, “Are they bugging you?” The archaeologists answered, “No.”

Hopkins did say there was genuine concern for archaeologists’ safety when they were working in the notoriously-violent smuggling corridor of Altar Valley.

But, overall, the archaeologists had to deal with multiple jurisdictions and a lot of curious people. “We just had people around us all the time,” she said.

Mexican archaeologists were among the interested parties, and their American counterparts are collaborating with them as always, Hopkins said.

One restriction posed by the U.S. government was that the archaeologists could only dig 5 feet deep, because that was as far as they were digging for the fence’s footers. Below that depth, “The archaeology, I guarantee, keeps going,” Hopkins said.

On another axis, the archaeologists were allowed to dig to a limit of 60 feet wide. That dimension related to President Theodore Roosevelt’s 60-foot-wide easement running the length of the U.S.-Mexico border from California to Texas. The “Roosevelt Reservation” was created “for the purpose of homeland security,” Hopkins said.

This “stripping” method of archaeology, done mainly by backhoe, ultimately extended for three-tenths of a mile and excavated 7,500 tons of soil from three-fourths of an acre.

The site has been reburied. Hopkins has not been back there for many months.“There’s a fence there now,” she said.

Herald/Review City Editor Ted Morris can be reached at 515-4614 or by e-mail at

No comments: