Jaye S. Smith, Robinson Collection Volunteer Co-Team Leader, Archaeology Southwest
(May 10, 2018)—A key element of Preservation Archaeology is a focus on working with existing collections and protecting sites still in the ground, as much as possible. Bringing rescued collections out of garages and closets and back into the larger archaeological world, where they can be studied and contribute to a better understanding of the past, is a particularly satisfying aspect of our work. In the fall of 2015, we had an exciting opportunity to do just that when colleagues from Northern Arizona University contacted us, asking if we might be able to help them protect what has turned out to be a remarkable collection of material from the Safford basin of southern Arizona.
Raymond F. Robinson was a geologist with a passion for archaeology. He worked in mining and exploration for ASARCO, Duval, Phelps Dodge, and other companies throughout the west. Robinson visited the Bonita Creek site with ranch owner Ray Claridge and esteemed Southwestern archaeologist Dr. Emil Haury sometime in 1958. It seems that during this general time period, Robinson was working with local ranch owners and archaeologists to identify sites and collect representative artifacts from the Safford region. He recorded at least basic site-level provenience information for most of the material collected.
Robinson curated this material in his home for over 50 years, but as he approached age 100, he became increasingly concerned for the final disposition of his collection. He did not want the material to be thrown away or sold on the open market to the highest bidder. His connections led him to Chris Downum and Kelley Hays-Gilpin at Northern Arizona University, who immediately recognized the importance of this collection. Chris and Kelley contacted Archaeology Southwest for assistance. Our friends at the Arizona State Museum agreed to accept the collection, with an agreement that Archaeology Southwest would partner with them to prepare the material for final curation. Thanks to the help of a number of colleagues throughout the Southwest, including donors who generously stepped up to help with the expenses of bringing the material from its location in Reno, Nevada, to Tucson, the collection found a new home in Tucson in the summer of 2016.
Many of the whole pots in the collection will spend time in the Arizona State Museum’s Conservation Lab, where conservation students and professionals are gaining valuable hands-on experience in removing the effects of years of masking tape, glue, plaster, and other coatings. Images: Courtesy of ASM Preservation
Much of the material in the Robinson collection appears to date to the Salado period, A.D. 1300–1450. Recent research by Archaeology Southwest and others suggests that the Safford area was an important destination for Kayenta immigrants from the Four Corners in the late 1200s. Because many sites in the Safford region have been lost due to historic and modern large-scale agricultural activities, this collection holds real potential for significant insights into this important time period in the southern Southwest.
So what’s next? We at Archaeology Southwest are busy preparing to start work cleaning, sorting, bagging, boxing, and analyzing the collection. And we’ll need the ongoing help of our volunteers to make this happen. We plan to begin this volunteer project in September 2018. If you’re a member of Archaeology Southwest and would like to be involved, you can read more about our plans and let us know you’re interested here.
The American Southwest Virtual Museum at Northern Arizona University has an online exhibit about the collection.