Message #158
From: AzTeC SW Archaeology SIG
To:   "'Matthias Giessler'" 

Date: Sun, 3 May 1998
Subject: No Requirement To Protect Archaeological
Sites On Private Land In Arizona

[ AzTeC / SWA SASIG ] :
Reading the Ruins Bulldozers rolling over history
Sprawl is threatening archaeological sites across
the United States, from Civil War battlefields to
Stone Age settlements. But Phoenix is a special
case. The whole city is built on the remains of
another civilization, the prehistoric Hohokam.
Urban sprawl erasing the past
By Kathleen Ingley The Arizona Republic May 3, 1998
This house destroyed rock art that was chipped out
a millennium ago. That house took out a prehistoric
canal. The development across the way wiped out the
remains of an ancient pit-house village. Driving
around north Phoenix and the Town of Cave Creek,
amateur archaeologist Grace Schoonover gives a most
unusual house tour: She points out archaeological
sites that were bulldozed by urban growth. "Most of
the people building individual Houses don't realize
what they're taking out," she says with a heavy
sigh. Sprawl is threatening archaeological sites
across the United States, from Civil War battlefields
to Stone Age settlements. But Phoenix is a special
case, said Mark Michel, president of the
Archaeological Conservancy, a national organization
based in Santa Fe. The whole city is built on the
remains of another civilization, the prehistoric
Hohokam - it was named for the mythic bird that burns
and rises again from the ashes. And rising it is.
Maricopa County added more people than any other county
in the nation last year. The area has thousands of
sites, and many have already been destroyed. "We are
working to save the various bits and pieces that are
left," Michel said. The average person often assumes
that archaeological sites have some sort of legal
protection. "But the laws we have are very weak,"
said Greg Woodall, a Scottsdale archaeologist.
There's no requirement to protect archaeological sites
on private land in Arizona, with the exception of
burial sites and construction projects involving
federal money or permits. So a ball court was graded
away east of Apache Junction. Petroglyphs were
crushed in the Foothills development of Phoenix.
Custom homes are Overrunning a site in Mesa, and no
one will ever know exactly what's there. "Each piece
is really important," said Jerry Howard, curator of
archaeology at the Mesa Southwest Museum, "and if you
lose a piece, that restricts your ability to
understand what's happening through time." Some
developers are taking extra steps to study or save
petroglyphs, bits of pottery, traces of canals and
other clues. A few Valley cities are beefing up their
rules. And in the southern part of the state, Pima
County requires developers to take archaeological
sites into account in their projects, just as they
have to consider sewers and streets. But some argue
that more protections are needed. Archaeologist
Howard worries that "the time to sit back and decide
what's important and what should be preserved is
almost gone." Today's archaeologists aren't playing
Indiana Jones, looking for a few priceless treasures.
They're after subtle signs that a casual hiker
wouldn't even notice. A long depression, for instance,
isn't a natural streambed but a canal. A row of rocks
on a hillside can mark a terrace used for farming.
Dark rocks and soil were blackened in a fire pit.
They all help unravel the tantalizing mystery of the
Hohokam. The prehistoric people built a monumental
canal system - scientists are still learning just how
sophisticated it was - but their culture suddenly
collapsed in the 1400s. The Hohokam faced the same
challenge as modern Arizonans: Can technology offset
the impact of a rapidly rising population, especially
in a land of little water? "They successfully lived
here for more than 1,000 years, an accomplishment on
its own, and then something went wrong," said Todd
Bostwick, city archaeologist for Phoenix. "If that's
not an important reason to study humans in the past,
I don't know what is." A few artifacts in isolation
may be fine for a museum case, but they don't tell
researchers much. "One or two don't give you the
variation that exists in the society," said Glen
Rice, an archaeologist at Arizona State University.
The patterns of where artifacts are found and in
what combination can reveal as much as the objects
themselves. They indicate the size of territories,
and whether individual settlements began working
together in a larger, more complex government. The
location and distribution of petroglyphs could help
scientists decipher their meaning. Did some pictures
indicate water or plentiful game? Did others serve
as astrological charts? Archaeological techniques
are constantly improving, so artifacts and sites
that seem insignificant today may yield a wealth
of information in the future, Mesa archaeologist
Howard said. For instance, it was only recently
that fiber analysis revealed that agave was an
important crop for the Hohokam. The root of the
plant is caramel-sweet and nutritious when roasted,
and researchers figure the Hohokam used it as a
fallback when other crops were short. The farming of
agave also reveals the close link between the
Arizona people and those in Mexico and farther south.
The construction equipment has been going full bore
in the foothills of the Superstition Mountains east
of Apache Junction. Amateur archaeologist Debbie
Canright couldn't help wincing as she pointed to an
expanse of raw dirt in the middle of a housing project.
It used to be a ball court, part of what was known
as the Blackwater archaeological site, where the
Hohokam played with fist-size balls made of rubber
extracted from desert plants. The court is similar
to those found in Mexico and Central America, and
researchers suspect the games were used for
predictions or had ceremonial overtones, such as
re-enacting the battle of light and dark. Canright
held out a photo of the ball court tenderly, like
the portrait of a favorite family member. "It was
unusual, stone-lined," she said. "It was oval-shaped.
To us, it was actually gorgeous." She's vice chair
of the South West Archaeology Team, a volunteer group
of professionals and amateurs that is ready to do
emergency surveys or excavations when a site is about
to be destroyed. The existence of the ball court has
been known for a long time, and archaeologists say
they thought they had a deal with C. Curtis
Construction to save it or at least do extra research.
But the bulldozers suddenly moved in last spring.
Scott Curtis, an executive with the construction firm,
declined to comment, except to say the company
"followed all the guidelines from the state and
federal law." Canright was glad that the construction
crews spared some rocks with petroglyphs - a series
of concentric circles - at the corner of the street.
But the grading for a cul-de-sac destroyed other
artifacts: a large trash mound, the remnants of walls
and an oven. "I believe in private property," Canright
said. "But the cultural resources found out here, I
believe, belong to the people of the state." The
Blackwater site should have triggered some extra
scrutiny, because the development there needed a
permit from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Whenever a project requires a federal permit, the
agency involved must weigh any effects on
archaeological sites in the area, said Carol
Griffith, deputy state historic preservation officer.
Still, "it's real easy for things to slip through
the cracks," she said. Often, permits don't kick in
until later phases of a project - long after the
earthmovers have chewed up a site. Just next door
to Blackwater, it was done differently. Developer
Judi Roland said she brought in an archaeologist to
survey and monitor her 85-home Vista Point project
because she believes in preserving the past. "The
most exciting thing to me is the petroglyphs," she
added. The project was designed to avoid disturbing
them. Roland said it's important to start
archaeological work early to avoid surprises and
delays. She doesn't yet know how much the job will
cost, but she expects the petroglyphs and other
artifacts may pay off in their own way, as part of a
theme for the development. A growing number of
communities nationwide are taking formal steps to
include archaeology in their land-use plans as urban
sprawl threatens historic and prehistoric sites.
Pima County, struggling with the growth around Tucson,
is often considered a national model. Developers who
want zoning changes there must look at archaeology,
just as they consider drainage and other technical
issues. And they're required to offset any impact the
project will have on archaeological sites. Not
everyone agrees that more rules are necessary.
"Those matters are probably best left in the hands
of the private sector to manage," said Drew Brown,
president of DMB. "I'm doing a fine job right now."
The company is spending hundreds of thousands of
dollars on archaeology at its huge DC Ranch in the
foothills of northern Scottsdale, said Terry Randall,
vice president of community developments. He declined
to give a specific figure. "It's nothing we have shied
away from," he said. "We have typically done as much
as would be required or more." That includes giving up
construction on valuable property to avoid some of the
more significant sites. Overall, Randall said,
developers are very responsible about archaeology.
ASU Professor Rice acknowledges that science can't
stand in the way of progress. "The whole point of
archaeology is that civilizations have laid down
their own layer over civilizations, and that's what
we're in the process of doing," he said. In his vision,
the more important archaeological sites would be set
aside as parks. Local residents would gain open space
and a window into the past. And there would be an
extra lure for tourists, who are drawn to the
prehistoric sites in the Southwest. "It's feasible,"
Rice said. Developers and archaeologists don't have
to be at odds, he insisted, if there's just a little
more thinking ahead. That could mean thinking about
archaeology in unexpected places. Until last year,
archaeologists assumed there was no need to check
out areas of barren creosote flats. Common wisdom
was that nothing would be found there. Then they
did a routine survey before Mayo Boulevard was
built north of the Central Arizona Project, because
the roadwork included federal funds. They were
stunned to unearth pit houses - mud-walled
structures built over shallow pits. "We really need
to start paying more attention," said city
archaeologist Bostwick. "We have to be careful and
examine each project on a case-by-case basis."
Proposals and strategies for preserving sites. Here are some of the strategies that archaeologists have used or proposed for preserving sites: Follow the example of Pima County. For zonings and rezonings, developers must prepare a site analysis that includes archaeology along with other points such as drainage and wildlife. They must devise ways to offset any impact the project will have on archaeological sites, whether by recovering and analyzing artifacts or avoiding sites altogether. The requirements, which date from the mid-1980s, apply to residential developments of more than 5 acres and commercial developments larger than 1 acre. In addition, the county won't issue a grading permit, except for very small areas, unless the property is certified to have no archaeological sites or there are plans for dealing with them. Linda Mayro, cultural resources manager for Pima County, looks for creative ways to help developers meet the requirements. Archaeological work can be timed to match the phases of a project, or a development could be reconfigured so the open space coincides with sites. "They're grumpy about it," she concedes. Rely on city rules. Scottsdale's "environmentally sensitive lands ordinance" requires developers in the city's mountainous northern region to do an archaeological survey. They aren't required to preserve or investigate the findings, although the city offers extra open space as an incentive if an archaeological site is left undisturbed. The town of Gilbert is asking developers to be more careful since the fossil of a mammoth was dug up in neighboring Chandler last summer. For larger zoning cases, the town has a standard clause that requires developers to stop and contact local officials if fossils or archaeological artifacts are found in the field. Use jawboning. Although Phoenix has one of the nation's stronger ordinances to help protect historic buildings, the law doesn't extend to archaeology. So for city archaeologist Todd Bostwick, "there's a real salesmanship approach that has to be taken." He assures developers, "If archaeology is undertaken in the beginning, there are very rarely delays.' That's their biggest concern." As for the cost, Bostwick argues that it's a sliver of the overall price tag for a project - almost always less than 1 percent. And he talks up the good publicity if interesting artifacts are found and the possibility of using archaeology as a marketing tool. If a developer won't pay for archaeological work, volunteers can often step in and do some of the basics: a survey, testing of any promising spots, maybe some excavation and monitoring for finds during construction. Pass legislation to require private property owners to do the same archaeological surveying, with possible further investigation or preservation, that's required on state land. A bill with those provisions was introduced this year, but died in committee. Set aside land into special archaeological preserves. Through donations and purchases, the Archaeological Conservancy has saved more than a dozen prehistoric sites around Arizona, plus the ruin of a Spanish mission. One of the more publicized was a Hohokam village in the midst of an upscale subdivision near Pinnacle Peak in Scottsdale. Developers Jerry and Florence Nelson sponsored excavations and donated a 2-acre site to the conservancy. Florence Nelson said it was a matter of conscience. If a site is destroyed without research, she said, "It's taking a page out of a book in a library. Somebody sometime will want to read the book and they can't get the whole story." Developers get a tax write-off for the land they donate. The conservancy typically leaves sites undisturbed, the artifacts safely underground. Encourage cities and counties to alert developers right away when their projects may contain archaeological sites. The State Historical Preservation Office is putting together a central database of old maps and records, a kind of one-stop shopping to measure the likelihood of finding artifacts in a particular spot. online visit for links to archaeology sites in the Southwest, as well as ruins and cultural museums you can visit locally.