Thu, Nov. 21

Group forms Valley archaeology center

CAMP VERDE - Shortly after Army surgeon Dr. Edgar Mearns arrived at Fort Verde in March 1884, he began collecting artifacts from the many of ruins littering the countryside.

It wasn't long before he started loading thousands of clay pots, stone tools, jewelry and other remnants left by the valley's former inhabitants, into wagons and shipping them east.

A former employee of the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, he sent the vast majority of items their way.

But he also sent a wagonload or two to the Smithsonian and even shipped mummified remains to the Army Medical Museum in Washington D.C.

When he transferred from Fort Verde in 1888, he left a serious dent in the valley's past.

Mearns wouldn't be the first and he wouldn't the last to drain the valley of its heritage. Like the early archaeologists of Egypt, many came. Many saw. Many took.

Even today, as professional archaeologists clear patches of the valley for development, the things they find do not stay.

A typical example is a recent excavation in Clarkdale where all of the items unearthed were immediately dispatched to Sharlot Hall Museum in Prescott, never to see or be seen in the valley again.

Enough is enough. That is the mantra of some dedicated folks who are now pulling out all the stops in an effort to build a facility to house what treasures is left.

Ken Zoll, current president of the Verde Valley Chapter of the Arizona Archaeological Society, along with two past presidents, Dr. Jim Graceffa and Sharon Olsen, and a handful of others have recently formed a new organization, the Verde Valley Archaeology Center.

"We want to stop the bleeding," says Zoll, "We have been approached by some folks who have private collections and are also committed to keeping them in the Verde Valley. For that reason and some others, we believe now is the time to get started."

The center's mission will be to not only build a facility where artifacts from the valley's past can be properly curated and displayed, but in doing so create a place that will serve as a museum, education center, research facility and information clearinghouse.

"This has been the dream for a lot of people way before my time. Hopefully we can put it together so it can carry on into the future," says Graceffa, who now serves as the board president.

The board of directors has identified Camp Verde as the place to put the facility, given its location at the center of so many ancient sites, its close proximity to Interstate 17 and it position as a gateway to the valley.

"Prescott has a museum - two in fact. Flagstaff has the Museum of Northern Arizona - even Payson has a small archaeological museum. It's time we had an archaeological center here in the heart of the Sinagua civilization," says Graceffa.

The center has already incorporated, applied for its non-profit status and launched a Website,

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