(June 16, 2017)—Our 2017 Preservation Archaeology Field School is off and running! Over the next few weeks, we’ll be featuring posts by our students and staff members about all the things we’re seeing, learning, and experiencing together in the field.
We begin the field school each year with two very busy days in Tucson, where we present some introductory lectures before a series of visits to some important local places. This year we all introduced ourselves by discussing how we each became interested in archaeology and our “sense of place,” the set of attributes that make our varied towns and cities of origin feel like home to each of us.
For many of our students and staff members, these two topics were closely related, as the past—both recent and more distant—is an important part of what makes our homes unique. I was struck by the deep connections some of our students feel for their home states or hometowns. Many of us were drawn to archaeology in part by a wish to learn more about our homes’ pasts; not just the past few centuries presented in the history books we read in school, but the past before written records, all too often relegated to a brief, vague chapter in those textbooks. I felt this strongly as a child in Phoenix, where my family’s frequent hiking and camping trips, museum visits, and the styles of architecture in some of the city’s older buildings introduced me to visible signs of our local past. Compared to the adobe walls of Pueblo Grande or the slowly decaying adobe and wooden houses we saw in nearby historic mining towns, the events in Boston or New York my school history books focused on seemed very far away in my childhood sense of space and place.
Our activities during our two days in Tucson were a great example of how our local history contributes to our sense of place in southern Arizona. One of our first visits was to the archaeological sites of Valencia and Valencia Vieja, two Preclassic Hohokam villages preserved by Pima Community College and Pima County. Built between A.D. 50 and 1150, these sites have very little architecture visible on the surface, but by carefully looking at the ground and the distribution of stone flakes and pottery sherds, we could see where ancient buildings, plazas, and trash mounds lie beneath the surface and get a sense of the structure of this community. Tucked between the Santa Cruz River and the modern I-19 freeway, we were surrounded by Tucson’s ancient history and modern traffic.
Our next stop was Mission San Xavier del Bac, a mission founded by Father Kino in 1692. The current buildings date from the late 1700s. Our guide, Martin Soto de Soto, shared information about his ancestors who have worshipped at this church for generations and some of the history of this unique building. In the mission church, everything from the construction techniques to the painted decorations reveals a melding of the religion and iconography brought by Spanish missionaries and the traditions of the Tohono O’odham people who already had deep roots in this land long before the missionaries arrived.
A quick walk around the reconstructed wall of the 1776 Presidio San Agustín del Tucson down the street from the Archaeology Southwest office gave students a glimpse of the many layers of history in Tucson’s downtown area. The midday heat in late May stopped us from walking much farther that day, but in cooler months a longer walk near the Tucson Museum of Art, along the Turquoise Trail, or through the streets of the Barrio Viejo is a great way to experience the many styles of architecture that became popular in Tucson as new residents arrived from different parts of the world. Sonoran-style row houses with thick adobe walls and no front yards reveal our city’s Spanish and Mexican architectural heritage, while Territorial Style and Queen Anne houses show later styles that became popular after 1854, when the Gadsden Purchase transferred what became Arizona Territory from Mexico to the United States. Our very modern new Pima County Courthouse stands not far from a set of older court buildings whose distinctive arches remind me of a set from the original Star Trek series—surely “very modern” in their time but very characteristic of another era today.
Another important part of our Tucson area orientation was a trip to the Tohono O’odham Cultural Center in Topawa, just south of Sells. The exhibits and Bernard Siquieros’s discussion of Tohono O’odham culture help all of us gain a better understanding of the traditions connecting today’s native people to their ancestors through all the time periods represented at the other sites we visited. At last year’s visit, Bernard shared a story that tied in with my own sense of place; a particular dove call that signaled a change of seasons and the time to move to a different location to gather plant foods. I recognized the dove call immediately as a call I heard in my own front yard every spring growing up.
These introductory days serve an obvious purpose in our students’ archaeological educations, ensuring that they visit at least one site from each of the three largest Southwestern archaeological cultural areas (Hohokam in Tucson, Mogollon in our field area, and Ancestral Pueblo during our field trip to Chaco Canyon later in the field season). In a more subtle way, though, these two days also introduce them to some of the components that build a sense of place among those of us who call southern Arizona home.
For the next six weeks, we’ll be interacting with people in the towns around our field site and throughout the Southwest, learning more about their varied connections to the fourteenth-century past our crew is studying. Every year, I look forward to seeing how our students develop their own “sense of place” both in the Southwest and in the archaeological discipline as they refine their interests and learn new skills. Although I get to watch this in person, their upcoming blog posts will share some of this journey, as well.