Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Archaeological Excavations at La Villa

Clay Censer
La Villa is a prehistoric Hohokam village site located on the first terrace above the Salt River.  It was occupied primarily during the pre-Classic period.  Early recordings of La Villa were conducted by local archaeologist, Frank Midvale, in 1928 and again in 1941; he documented a number of trash mound locations, artifact scatters, and a prehistoric canal.  He also identified an area that may have been a compound, suggesting a Classic Period component to the site.

Because of its location in downtown Phoenix, a number of different development and maintenance projects have triggered archaeological data recovery excavations as a means of mitigating impacts to La Villa.  These projects have resulted in the discovery of hundreds of pit house structures, extramural pits, and other types of features.

To mitigate impacts from a joint city and county-sponsored multi-phased storm drain project, two separate data recovery excavation projects were conducted within existing city streets in 2010/2011 and more recently in 2013/2014.  These excavations were conducted by Desert Archaeology, Inc. and occurred within narrow corridors; working in these tight swaths created challenges for archaeological investigation, but also afforded the benefit of broad coverage across the village with multiple long “transect-like” sample areas.

Archaeological work conducted by Desert Archaeology, Inc. in 2010 and 2011 included data recovery and monitoring, and involved several phases of work within several roadways.  Among many logistical challenges associated with this project - road closures, extremely tight work areas, and collapsing construction trenches - was the sheer volume of features that were encountered beneath city streets.  These consisted of 80 pit houses and nearly 100 extramural features including small pits, pits, numerous borrow pits, several hornos (earthen ovens), and a small canal. 

Superimposed pit house structures at La Villa.
Superimposed pit houses were common, reflecting hundreds of years of occupation in which houses were built, fell out of use, and new houses were constructed on top of the old ones.  Interesting discoveries on this project include 30 clay figurines or figurine fragments and a ceramic censer with the image of a human face.  Based on these excavations, this portion of La Villa appears to have been occupied from the Red Mountain Phase (A.D. 1-500) through the middle Sacaton Phase (A.D.1000-1050), with the period between A.D. 500-1000 best represented.  A technical report on these excavations is currently in review at the City Archaeology Office.

Broken vessels with burned corn and seeds, and long bones from deer
Data recovery investigations for a subsequent phase of this storm drain project were recently conducted, resulting in the discovery of 69 pithouses, 140 extramural pits, and 2 hornos.  Superimposed houses were common in one portion of the project area along Jackson Street, though another portion of the project area was characterized by a relatively lower density of houses with less frequent rebuilding.  Several houses appear to have been catastrophically burned, and one contained an interesting floor assemblage consisting of several broken jars that held carbonized plant materials such as corn, amaranth and squash or pumpkin seeds, along with several long bones from a deer.  Another house floor contained a deep trough metate and a broken plain ware vessel. 

Preliminary results indicate that the primary era of occupation was between A.D. 500 and 950 with some evidence for small Red Mountain phase and Early Classic period occupations as well.  Artifact and data analyses are currently underway, and as the results are obtained, a technical report will be prepared.

Submitted by Laurene Montero, M.A., City of Phoenix Archaeologist

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