Excavations at University Indian Ruin
Paul and Suzanne Fish
Late prehispanic room containing bison bones.
Small platform mound with a single structure at its summit.
Dr. Paul Fish comparing ancient with modern bison bone.
Spring 2011 fieldwork at University Indian Ruin (UIR) has come to a close. Under the direction of Drs. Paul and Suzanne Fish, both Arizona State Museum curators and UA professors of anthropology, with the capable assistance of graduate assistants Matthew Pailes and Maren Hopkins, the project involved 14 undergraduate and graduate students.
This second semester of UIR investigation was an undertaking of the University of Arizona’s School of Anthropology and Arizona State Museum, with the significant assistance of Desert Archaeology, Inc.
Archaeologists Mark Elson (Desert Archaeology, Inc.) and Douglas Craig (Northland Research, Inc.) contributed extensively to research design and implementation. In keeping with the commitment to use low-impact exploratory methods to ensure the site’s long-term preservation, Laurence Conyer from the University of Denver instructed students in ground penetrating radar.
The UIR site preserves 13 acres in the heart of an extensive Classic period Hohokam settlement (ca. 1150–1450 C.E.). At the center of the property is a large earthen platform mound that supported the civic and ritual buildings of the Classic period. Investigations this spring revealed a second, much smaller platform mound to the east. The small mound was constructed with a thick adobe retaining wall to give a straight-sided shape to the earthen mass. The platform has sufficient space for only a single large room. Ceramics suggest both mounds were used simultaneously.
Excavation of two adobe structures offered the opportunity to investigate intentional, ritualized room closure.
One, immediately adjacent to the large platform mound, was almost certainly part of the associated room complex. A wide array of core and groundstone artifacts, large amounts of obsidian, and different body parts of a bison were strewn across the structure as if thrown from the doorway as walls were pushed over and the interior filled with dirt. Zuni glaze wares suggest a late occupation.
The second is part of a burned room complex east of the main mound. The fire’s intense heat reddened walls and baked roofing materials. Large amounts of burned trash and useful tools, including numerous reconstructable bowls, were found throughout the fill. Cobbles were intentionally placed in and over the burned room to effectively mask the presence of architecture on the gravel ridge. Over 1200 liters were in one half of the excavated room alone.
The site of University Indian Ruin is located in Tucson’s Indian Ridge Estates neighborhood (near Grant and Tanque Verde Roads), a National Historic District about seven miles from downtown Tucson near the confluence of Rillito Creek and Pantano Wash. In 1930, an archaeology student donated the land to the University of Arizona’s then department of archaeology for the purpose of student training. Eminent archaeologists Byron Cummings, Emil Haury, and Julian Hayden conducted extensive excavations there throughout the 1930s. A joint effort to turn the site into an archaeological park by the University of Arizona, Pima County, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), and the National Park Service was halted by World War II.
By the time the war interrupted, CCC had constructed a caretaker’s home, an archaeological laboratory, and other facilities which still stand today. The Salus Mundi Foundation recently supported the School of Anthropology’s restoration of the historic properties, now used to house visiting scholars and a field school laboratory.
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