Sunday, August 1, 2010

Indian Kitchen: an Emergency Inventory

Please forgive any errors or omissions as my memory dims with time but this is what I remember.

Max W., from the Tucson BLM office, called asking if I could round-up help for the BLM. People with archaeological experience were needed to do an Emergency Inventory at the Indian Kitchen site. BLM had been notified that bulldozer activity in the area had been heard in the 2 am hours on several occasions.

Calls went out and the Tucson Site Stewards responded as they always do.

A newly bladed road, we were told, ran through the BLM land for 8 miles. Were archaeological sites impacted? If so, how badly? We were to help with damage assessment of the archaeological sites.

Indian Kitchen is a Hohokam habitation site that dates to 1200 AD. About 20 or so mortar holes at the base of a rock out-cropping gives the site its name. The site located is south and west of Tucson.

When we arrived at Indian Kitchen the first thing we noticed was a wide, newly bladed road. I had been to this site several times and where there had been a dirt two track now there was a two-lane road; bulldozers had expanded the area around the rock out-cropping and made it look like a parking lot. Potsherds and lithics were poking up everywhere.

Our group, led by Max, followed the newly bladed two-lane road around the BLM land to its end. Along the way we noted Palo Verde trees, a variety of cacti, mesquite trees - actually all vegetation - up-rooted, lying twisted and torn along the road. Berms formed; washes gouged; Archaeological sites torn through. The two track, now wide-bladed, made strange turns and angles - a set-up for erosion and flooding. The area was a great twisted and mangled mess. The “main” road lead to the end of the property and at this area was a new aircraft runway. A few houses had been built way out here. A Wildcat housing development!

A Security Police Officer arrived and closed off the end of the BLM road leading to the homes and runway. A couple of the homeowners arrived and were angry about the road closure. Very Angry! We left the soft spoken, polite yet determined, policeman to do his job. The road was closed and that was that!

After this drive-thru recon, we formed into crews and started our normal archaeological walking survey of the area along the roads.

We surveyed for 5 days, as I remember, walking each side of the road assessing damage to vegetation and noting archaeological disturbances made by the unauthorized bulldozer activities. We found historic mining activity areas had been impacted by the unauthorized dozer as had known prehistoric sites.

We found a couple of previously unknown sites; one was an archaic site; another, a site of unknown time frame, of interest because the inhabitants had used a material NOT normally seen in lithic manufacturing, quartz crystal.

At one time, when we were close to the main “Kitchen” area gunfire was heard and bullets whizzed overhead. We were not comfortable!

Mapping of archaeological sites was done by the BLM crew using a sophisticated GPS system; Video cameras were used to document the awful damage to vegetation, washes, and archaeological sites.

Now, it is 6 years later and in the newspaper this morning the news of conviction of 2 men - one Tucsonan the other from Las Vegas - for damages done to the Indian Kitchen site and surrounding area. According to the newspaper article, one man was convicted on 6 felony counts the other on 15 counts of the original 37 felony counts including: conspiracy, damaging archaeological resources, damaging public lands, trespassing, cutting down trees on public land. Their sentencing will take place in Nov 03. The fines could be up to maximum $250,000 and 10 years in jail for EACH offense, for which there were many! There was great damage to the area.

As I said, time dims my memory; I cannot remember all the names of Site Stewards who responded to the Emergency call but be it known, you did a super job and many a thank you comes your way. The archaeological sites we monitor are old and in ruins but the “thank you” is always new and strong.

Oh! Before I forget — I attended a meeting of the wildcat homeowners and BLM. The homeowners were furious that the road closure continues and they claim the developer has saved the government about one million dollars as the road needed to be widen to accommodate their needs! Now they will have to use the county maintained dirt road and it is not as convenient for them.

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