Leslie Aragon, Excavation Director and University of Arizona Doctoral Program
The beginning of the summer field school season is always an exciting time of year. Every year, the staff of the Upper Gila Preservation Archaeology (UGPA) field school (a partnership between Archaeology Southwest and the University of Arizona School of Anthropology) heads out a week before the students arrive to set up our camp and lab, and to get the site ready in preparation for the season. It’s a good time for the staff to work out any kinks and figure out what we’ve forgotten in Tucson so that we don’t have to do it when the students are there to witness it. This is my third year on the project, and this year we have a new crew member, Barry Price-Steinbrecher (who will lead the survey portion of the field school), so it gave her a chance to get to know the rest of us, too.
We loaded up three trucks’ worth of equipment and groceries and headed east, bright and early, Tuesday morning. The trip isn’t long—only about four hours from Tucson—and before I knew it, we were rounding that last bend before the grassy rolling hills of Mule Creek came into view. It is a sight that I know well and have come to look forward to every summer. I feel a sense of place for this landscape…like I belong here, even if just for seven short weeks.
The first thing on the agenda, after unloading the trucks, is to set up our tents. We have a staff area that is separate from what will soon become the “student village.” It’s our own little subdivision of the community that will be our home in the coming weeks.
We use a small, one-bedroom house as our base of operations. The tiny living room becomes an office for six. It is crowded, but cozy, and we have some our best arguments discussions there. Right now, it is strangely quiet—but 14 students will soon fill the place with questions and new ideas. Sometimes, we come in from the field completely exhausted, but stay up far too late laughing and talking about all kinds of things. That is how I remember this place. Not the relatively calm and peaceful place that it is at the beginning.
Out on the Dinwiddie site, we worked on figuring out where we will be excavating. Of course, we’ve had some idea about what the plan would be for a while, but it can be hard when you aren’t out there with a shovel in the ground. This year, we will be exploring Room Block 1. It is a much smaller room block than those we excavated last year, and (so far) it looks like the rooms are all single story with floor surfaces not far below the ground surface. We will also look at some of the architectural features of Room Block 2, and use exploratory trenches to determine the extent of heavy equipment and other disturbance to the part of the site that is currently identified as a plaza.
On our last day of set-up, we put up our lab tent. It is a large (to say the least) military tent that we erect on a poured-adobe pad out behind our field house. It was a daunting task, but with the help of a few of the guys who work for our camp hosts (and who have set up this monstrosity before), we were done in only a couple of hours. Now all that’s missing is the students!