Friday, February 18, 2011

Right Beneath Your Feet

Working in the City Archaeology Office, one of the many things that I have come to realize about archaeology in Phoenix is how archaeology can exist right underneath modern development. Granted, many archaeological features (especially canals) have had their upper portions removed by historical plowing, but if historical and modern ground disturbances haven’t gone any deeper than this plow zone, archaeological deposits can remain very much intact. In fact, some modern features like paved roads actually help preserve any features beneath them. This is certainly true of roads all around town. In fact, in one recent project in downtown Phoenix, over 200 archaeological features have been identified under a portion of two streets. Impressive enough, but even more impressive considering the total length of just this portion of the project was only about 1,000 feet. The thing that gets to me sometimes is how you would never even know these features were there. The roads that these features were found under are no different than other roads in Phoenix where no archaeology is known to exist. There are numerous other examples under streets that I could list, but that would be a much more involved blog post!
Project Crew excavating Sky Harbor Center Runway,
June 12, 2001

There are other recent examples of intact archaeology underneath buildings and in areas that have been developed for years. One of the best of these is an area near Sky Harbor Airport. An area of industrial businesses was recently leveled to make way for an airport improvement project. And right underneath these buildings? You guessed it—archaeology! In this case, the features were mostly canals. Since large areas were cleared as the businesses were removed, the canals could be exposed in plain view. Once the backdirt was stripped down to the features, their alignments were easy to spot on the ground. In one area, you could even see where the smaller lateral canals and the fields were located and how they were arranged. Once again, if you were in the area when the businesses were present, you would have no idea that such things could exist right underneath all those buildings!

Heading back downtown, there are even more examples of features being identified underneath modern buildings and parking lots. In the Original Phoenix Townsite, there are examples not only of prehistoric features being identified where large buildings had stood (and where even larger buildings are being planned), but right underneath historical archaeological features. Yes, even in historical times, people often had no idea that archaeology lay directly beneath them. Certainly, historical residents of Phoenix knew of the civilization that had been here before (after all, our city was named for this fact), and there are many large and important sites in Phoenix and the surrounding area. Some of these sites have been preserved in places like Pueblo Grande. However, not all of these sites are as large or obvious; many are much more subtle and lay just under the disturbances of the past 150 years. Each day as you travel across Phoenix and along its roads and through its buildings, you’ve probably gone over several archaeological sites. My commute to work each day is less than 10 miles, but I pass through at least three major sites (Pueblo Grande included). The next time you travel around town, take a moment to think about what might be right beneath your feet!

Posted by April Carroll, Contract Associate Archaeologist - Archaeology Office

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