Thursday, March 31, 2011

Almost Nabbed

Last year my Site Steward partner and I looked over a Hohokam prehistoric site way to the south of Tucson - not too far from the border.

We were on a big ranch owned by the County - within the boundaries of our monitoring area.

Access is tricky. To get into the site we have to call the County office to get the combination lock activation number. They change the combination frequently and we only go out there every few months.

The County contact, of course, asks for the car type, license plate number, our names and everything else but our blood type!

Now after many phone calls and combination number in hand we were on our way.

Once we were past the combo lock we traveled a dirt road past the old ranch house, went through a couple of more gates then, eventually, arrived at the hill top prehistoric site.

We spent about three quarters of an hour on site then headed out to more sites just outside of the combo locked gate.

As we were leaving the site driving the dirt road and approaching the combo locked gate, a truck was headed towards us. In keeping with countryside niceties we slowed, came to a halt and rolled down the window to have a ‘howdy’ chat.

“Were you ladies just up on that hill?” asked the anxious and worried looking driver.

“Yes. We were there. We are Arizona Site Stewards.”

We produced our Site Steward papers authorizing us to be on county properties.

He gave our papers a careful scrutiny then said, “Oh! Ok. No one notified me you were to be here. I called the Border Patrol on you.”

I looked at the passenger in the truck and sure enough there was a young, grinning Border Patrol Officer!

Grinning back at him I said, “Shucks! You missed out on nabbing two beautiful dames today!”

Thursday, March 24, 2011


Out in the quiet desert we hear and see two low flying Black Hawk helicopters coming towards us and hear their “Whap! Whap!” - sounds that cut through the desert peace.

They are very low. They look ominous! The desert peace is truly broken.

Many questions come to mind: Are they practicing? Are they watching us? Are they after someone?

We have driven to this area down a long, deep in silt, dirt road.

Dusty is an understatement. The dust is pinkish in color. It swarms and swirls about us as we drive along. The vehicle and its windows are covered in dust.

We have parked on the dirt road and have walked to the south out of the way of the sparse mesquite thicket — thorny you know!

We continue our survey, keeping the helicopters in sight.

They hover - hover for a long time at the base of the mountains that are to our northwest less than a mile away.

We finish our survey and head back to the car.

The helicopters are still there – hovering.

Bruce H. says, “They got someone!”

“Who?” We ask.


We are in the mesquite thicket and thru the branches we see a camouflaged vehicle.

Startled I say, “There is their car!

We need to go back and get out. Wait a minute!

That is my car!”

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Challenge

The last words I heard as I left Andy’s office were, “Find a ballcourt!”

Ballcourts have been found on large pre-classic sites but they are not common. The Hohokam had ballcourts from about 750 -1000 AD. It is thought to be a Meso-American influence – some 1500 miles away - according to Haury in his writings on Excavations at Snaketown.

No one really knows why but the ballcourt system was abandoned. Then, Hohokam built large-scale platform mounds, either used for ceremonial rites or at times living structures. A full cultural shift at about 1000 AD is clearly in evidence.

Andy is leading an office crew for another County’s Resource Planning.

I am leading a field crew that is four strong; each of us has about 25 years field experience; we love a challenge and now we have one! Find a ballcourt!

Mainly though, our challenge on this survey project has been re-locating the sites!

The sites were discovered in the forties to mid eighties and map plotting was not the best. They were using 15’ topographical maps so the change over of re-plotting to 7.5’ topographical maps has caused some problems! And now the maps are changing from NAD (North American Datum) 27 to 83. And GPS (Global Positioning System) units were not existence at that time either! Yikes! What a confusing mess!

We re-located and surveyed a large Hohokam habitation site dated to the pre-classic time frame about 800-1000 AD give or take a few years depending on whose chart/writings are being used!

Sherds were everywhere along with ground stone and lithics. Very large trash mounds were also evident along with general large scale pot hunting activities. Pit house depressions were noted.

I had told the crew about Andy’s parting and challenging words to me, “Find a ballcourt!”

We found several large depressions and did our usual measurements and GPS’d the exact location for the site card.

As we were leaving the site we heard Ken F. in a soft voice call out, “Hey, come see this!”

We converged on the voice and WOW!

A ballcourt! We are sure it is a ballcourt.

It measured the same as the small ballcourt at Snaketown (court-2 Santa Cruz phase); has nice berms, the orientation is North – South not just a willy-nilly orientation as cattle tanks or water catchments usually have.

Following the measuring, GPS-ing and mapping we had a chatty, congratulatory lunch Bermside of a Hohokam ballcourt! (Listened to the roar of the crowds?)

The challenge thrown. The challenge met!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Lighting Again

Earlier I talked about lighting and how it affects artifacts or rather viewing of same in the field.

My Site Steward partner and I had discovered a new site. We asked our Land Manager, an Archaeologist, to come out with us and officially record the site for the Arizona Site Office. This recording gives it an official number and map plotting for future Archaeologists.

On site we take her to our datum – a rock feature.

We start walking the site and there are no artifacts!

We had done a full pin flag, controlled inventory/survey just months before and had the artifact list with us.

Now, no artifacts? Boy! How embarrassing. We were wasting the Land Manager’s time and we sure looked like idiots!

I walked away to sit by myself and think about this embarrassing - revolting - development.

On the surface next to me - obsidian flake - then sherd - then more lithics! I called out to the others and showed them the artifacts.

Soon they too began calling out artifacts they saw. Jasper flakes, tools, cores, chalcedony flakes, pottery sherds, ground stone and since we were next to the Rail Road lots of historic glass and metal.

Lighting! With the passing of a few minutes and the sun’s movement across the skies the artifacts once again began to reveal themselves!

At the end of the recording session, the Land Manager said, “This is an exciting and wonderful site.”


Thursday, March 3, 2011

Off Road

When one travels, especially off road, one should have the vehicle well maintained so pursuant to that belief I take my vehicle in regularly for oil change, tire check, air filter change and all of that good stuff.

On one visit not too long ago, I asked the service manager what others thought about their vehicle like mine, a 4x4, in the off road setting.

He said, “You are the only customer I have that goes off road.”

He called another man over to look at my tires and they both laughed.

I thought, “Tires? They are fairly new. Now what?”

They continued to laugh then said, “Look at those thorns on the side walls!”

Heavens! I am out in the desert off road!

The desert has cacti.

What do they expect?