Thu, May 23

Archaeologists uncover ancient grinding tools near landfill

Courtesy photo

A VARIETY of artifacts have been uncovered at the dig site, some whole and some in fragments.

Archaeologist David Tucker of SWCA Inc., an environmental consulting firm based in Tucson, is project manager on the dig.

It is taking place next to the Gray Wolf landfill along the eastern end of Arizona 169.

Gray Wolf’s owner, Waste Management, Inc., is seeking to expand the landfill 255 acres onto the Prescott National Forest.

In exchange, Waste Management is offering the U.S. Forest Service seven inholdings totaling 871 acres next to the Prescott, Apache, Coronado and Kaibab national forests in Arizona. Five of the seven in-holdings are completely surrounded by national forestlands. Acquiring them will increase the Forest Service’s ability to manage its resources, officials said.

The Forest Service currently is working on an environmental study of the proposed land exchange.

SWCA spent seven days checking out two sites that a previous archaeological review of the area concluded were worthy of further research.

People of the Prescott Culture during the Chino phase, which dates between 1100 A.D. and 1300 A.D., used the site.

After that time, drier sites the Prescott Culture and others inhabited around the Southwest such as the Hohokam, Anasazi and Mogollon experienced widespread abandonment. They left during the "Great Drought of the Southwest." Tree-ring dating shows the drought occurred between 1276 and 1299.

The Prescott Culture range covered much of western Yavapai County, especially in the Prescott Basin, as far back as 200 A.D. They had a strong Hohokam influence, in that the Hohokam settled the upper Agua Fria watershed around 750 A.D. to 850 A.D.

Archaeologists disagree about whether the Yavapai people are related to the Prescott Culture. Some theorize that the Yavapai came to this area after the Prescott Culture abandoned it.

Tucker figures that the Prescott Culture people were using the sites near the landfill as "resource processing sites." They returned to the sites season after season to collect food and process it, and may have left some of the heavier tools such as the pestle for when they returned.

Other processing tools that Tucker’s crew uncovered included a vesicular basalt trough metate and a fragment of a mano stone. The people used the mano to grind food in the metate.

The Prescott Culture was more nomadic than some other people in the Southwest, hunting and gathering food as often as they grew it.

A head of a ceramic figurine that archaeologists found at the landfill site helps them date the use, since they calculate that the Prescott Culture didn’t start making ceramic figurines until the Chino Phase.

By that time, the Prescott Culture lived mostly in stone-lined pit houses and pueblos. They were building hilltop forts, too.

The SWCA crew found shards of ceramic pottery all over the ground near the landfill. Most of the items were within the top layer of the dirt. The granite soils easily migrate downhill to a wash that SWCA tested.

"The ground is really dynamic," Tucker said. "It’s like water."

All the artifacts that Tucker’s crew uncovered will become part of the Sharlot Hall Museum collection in Prescott after lithic and ceramic experts clean them up and analyze them, Tucker said.

Since the discoveries are easily documented and removed, it doesn’t appear that they will hinder the landfill expansion proposal, Tucker said.

The SWCA crew also checked out a quarter-mile segment of an historic route that could become part of the landfill.

The late Dewey entrepreneur and Indian fighter King Woolsey built the Stoneman Road in the latter half of the 1800s as a toll road between Prescott and Fort Wingate, N.M., Tucker said.

Some cairns and telegraph footer rocks still exist along the road, which was used as late as the 1970s for a sheep route.

That particular section of the road near the landfill already has lost much of its integrity, McKie said.