Backyard Geology Adventures: Special Archaeology Edition

March 28, 2009 § 4 Comments

Well, this is an odd weekend.  The good news is, Matt got a job! (yay!), the bad news… we now have completely opposite work schedules (boo!).  So now I get to do things that I normally would not do when he is around, like things I used to do six months ago when I was single.  Including: spending hours at the mall (check) and playing on the internet whenever I feel like it without having someone complaining about how I am obsessed with facebook (also check).  Since I have this multitude of time on my hands, I thought I’d regale you with tales of my archaeological adventures in the wilderness.  Because it is an awesome story, and you WILL like it.

I was in Arizona for a total of two weeks taking this course.  For some of the time, we were sitting in a classroom learning about the history of prehistoric people in the southwest (in particular the general area that makes up the Tonto National Forest in Arizona).  The best classroom day was when we got to look at artifacts and then try to figure out what they were. The rest of the time, we were out in the field, either learning about stuff or doing archaeological surveys.

An archaeological survey is kind of fun to do but I can see how it could get somewhat repetitive and tedious after a while.  Basically, it involves walking up and down transects of your study area while looking down at the ground for any type of historic or prehistoric artifacts and structures that might be there.  In some places there may be absolutely nothing (which is good if you want to use the site for some sort of project, but not very exciting).  In other places, like where we were, there is tons of stuff.

This is some of what we found:

Housing

Types of architecture went through several different phases.  Early prehistoric people known as the Hohokam started out building pithouses around 1000 AD.  Pit houses were simple structures that were dug out and covered with mud for the walls, which were held up by wooden posts.

pithouse

cross section of a pithouse

It’s really hard to find pithouses today because they’re made of dirt, and they collapsed a long time ago.  The only way to identify a potential pithouse site is to find an artifact scatter including items corresponding to the time period during which pithouses were built.  We may have found a couple of these sites, but like I said, it’s hard to tell.  One in particular was a pretty crazy site.  The first thing we noticed were a bunch of broken CD’s all over the place.  Some people were looking at them, trying to figure out what kinds of CD’s they were when we started stumbling across artifacts.  Lots of them.  Pottery sherds and lithics all over the place.  One lady in class picked up a giant agave knife and gave it to the teacher without even knowing what it was.  But the best find of the day was this:

cimg4039

arrowhead/projectile point

None of us could believe it.  We were standing around listening to our teacher talk about some stuff when one of the guys behind me noticed it on the ground.  It was really cool, and I was totally jealous I hadn’t found it myself.  If only I’d been standing back a little further…

Although, as it turns out, I’m not exactly the best at spotting things.  On a different day, my surveying partner Stella and I tripped right over another type of housing made a little later by the Hohokam.  This type of structure was made out of rock and we actually ended up finding quite a few of them over the course of the week, once we knew what we were looking for.  At this point, all you can really see is the outline of the walls, which may or may not be clear.  Ideally this is what it would look like, in map layout fashion:

structure2

Cross section of a rock structure, not to scale. Those black things are supposed to be rocks. Do not mock my mad artistic skills.

In reality, it looks more like this:

cimg3988

But sometimes you get lucky and can see good walls that are still standing, like this:

cimg3989

Or obviously collapsed walls, like this:

cimg3985

notice the alignment of the rocks here (going sideways across the picture)

There’s quite a bit more to say but now that I’ve written all of this, I’m pretty tired of it for today and will save the rest of the story for later.

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§ 4 Responses to Backyard Geology Adventures: Special Archaeology Edition

  • chloe86 says:

    Ha! You found all those things?! Cool! I find archeology interesting! and I love History!
    Where I live, there are prehistoric, roman (9 BC) and Moorish (711-1492 AD) remains. Authorities always have to stop building roads or subways, because there are always archeological remains! ha, ha!

  • Camille says:

    I’m a closet archaeologist. And an out-of-the-closet AZ lover. So of course I found this post to be FABULOUS! Thanks!

  • This is VERY interesting! I’ve always wondered who the first person was to stand in various spots I’ve stood in. Very cool.

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