Last Saturday, a number of us at Archaeology Southwest were happy to take part in the 30th anniversary celebration for Catalina State Park. Encompassing 5,500 acres on the north side of Tucson, the park is a haven for Sonoran Desert plants and wildlife, and also protects a number of archaeological sites. Most of the sites are small, but one, the Romero Ruin, is a significant precontact Hohokam site.
Archaeology Southwest has been associated with Romero Ruin and Catalina State Park for most of its history. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, we mapped, surface-collected, and conducted test excavations at Romero Ruin. We undertook these efforts to help park staff plan and implement an interpretive trail through the site in 1993. We’ve been giving public tours of the site off and on since 1986. We even celebrated our own 30th anniversary at the park last year.
In keeping with that tradition, Bill Doelle, Jeff Clark, and Matt Peeples were on hand on Saturday to lead groups of enthusiastic visitors through Romero Ruin. I staffed an information booth at the Large Group Area. I was especially pleased to be able to offer for sale the latest issue of Archaeology Southwest Magazine, “In the Mountain Shadows: The Continuing Story of an Ancient Southern Arizona Community.” Hot of the press less than 48 hours earlier, this issue is an update of a booklet we first published in 1996 focused on the archaeology of the park, and contains lots of new information about the Hohokam occupation of the larger northern Tucson Basin area. Members will receive their copies next week.
We also let park visitors experience archaeology up close. We’re currently processing a collection of artifacts from several sites in the San Pedro River valley that we protect via conservation easements. “Processing artifacts” means cleaning and sorting lots of pieces of dirty, broken pottery. I brought some wash basins, brushes, and buckets, and invited visitors to get their hands wet and dirty by helping wash some sherds. It was mostly the kids who took me up on the offer—perhaps the rest of us have washed enough dishes in our lifetimes? It was fun to watch the kids’ faces light up as they diligently scrubbed the dirt off a sherd to sometimes reveal a bit of painted design, an artisan’s work of over 1,000 years ago.
Our experiences last Saturday were just a reminder of what we already know: when people experience archaeology, they begin to understand its value in their own lives. Weare committed to creating meaningful opportunities for people across the Southwest and beyond to explore and experience the places of our past. And we congratulate Catalina State Park on a great first 30 years of caring for such a special place!