What's Up UA? - Students Practice Excavation Skills at University Indian Ruins - Tucson Local Media: University Of Arizona

What's Up UA? - Students Practice Excavation Skills at University Indian Ruins

Font Size:
Default font size
Larger font size

Posted: Wednesday, March 13, 2013 3:45 pm

The average person driving through the Indian Ridge Estates neighborhood on the east side of Tucson probably doesn't give much thought to the people who lived there thousands of years before.

But on a plot of land just beyond the roofs of the neighborhood's modern homes, that's exactly what's on the minds of students and researchers from the University of Arizona.

Wielding buckets, shovels and brushes, they work meticulously, unearthing ancient architecture, pottery shirds, animal bones and other artifacts at the University Indian Ruins, a 13-acre Hohokam village site.

Donated to the UA in the 1930s by the family of a UA archaeology student whose ranch included the 13-acre plot, the property is one of the last remaining Hohokam Classic Period platform mound sites in the Tucson basin. Researchers estimate the village was inhabited by the Hohokam people between A.D. 1200 and A.D. 1450 or later.

Normally closed to the public, the ruins opened for community tours on March 2 in celebration of Arizona Archaeology and Heritage Awareness Month. Additional free tours will be held on March 16 at 9:30 a.m., 10:30 a.m. and 11:30 a.m.

The ruins have gone through several evolutions since first acquired by the UA. Throughout much of the 1930s, Byron Cummings, then-head of the University's archaeology department, led field schools at the site, attracting a number of high-profile archaeologists. The property then was developed into a public park with a small museum. However, it was only open briefly; lack of funding forced it to close during World War II.

In the ensuing years, a neighborhood grew up around the ruins, and while the University continued to maintain the site as an archaeological preserve, there was not a lot of activity there – until recently.

In 2005, the UA School of Anthropology received an $8 million gift from A. Richard Diebold, Jr. and his Salus Mundi Foundation, a portion of which was used to stabilize and renovate the University Indian Ruins and its facilities, including an archaeology laboratory and two residential buildings.

Upon completion of the renovations in 2010, UA husband-and-wife archaeologists Paul and Suzanne Fish held their first archaeology field school there. The six-credit program is now offered to undergraduate and graduate students every spring.

Students in the field school spend eight hours a day, two days a week working hands-on in the field, practicing a variety of mapping, excavation and record-keeping techniques. They also hear regularly from speakers in the archeology community.

"It's really different coming out here and digging up walls than sitting in an archaeology class," said field school student Julie Fagg, a UA senior majoring in anthropology. "Rather than instructors just telling us about things, we can find them ourselves."

And there's nothing quite like the feeling you get when you unearth something thousands of years old, says freshman anthropology major Tessa Branyan, the field school's youngest member.

"It's awesome. I love coming out here every week. You learn so much and you get to find cool stuff," she said.

Since the field schools started in 2010, more than 150,000 pieces of pottery have been uncovered, among other artifacts.

Students clean and process what they find in an on-site laboratory then bring the artifacts back to the main UA campus for storage at theArizona State Museum, the state's official archaeological repository.

"It's very hands-on, very intensive training," said Suzanne Fish, curator of archaeology at the Arizona State Museum.

Besides being a place for students to get real experience working in the field, the ruins also are an important resource for researchers to learn more about some of the Southwest's earliest inhabitants.

"We've made major discoveries and increases in knowledge as a result of doing this," said Paul Fish, also a curator of archaeology at the Arizona State Museum.

For example, discoveries of buffalo bones, shell jewelry and certain ceramic and obsidian artifacts at the site provide insights into trade networks during that time.

The University Indian Ruins, listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2012, represent only the "downtown" portion of a larger Hohokam settlement, which was probably close to a square-mile in size, the Fishes say. Today, neighbors in the surrounding Indian Ridge Estates neighborhood frequently bring in artifacts found in their yards.

In addition to an archaeology lab, the ruin site also includes an abode residence for visiting faculty in the School of Anthropology and a guest house, currently inhabited by an anthropology graduate student who serves as the site's unofficial caretaker.

This month's public tours of University Indian Ruins were organized by anthropology graduate student Lauren Kingston as part of her internship with Desert Archaeology, with funding support from the Arizona Humanities Council.

While tours of the ruins have been offered to the surrounding neighborhood and members of the archaeology community in the past, this is the first time in years that the general public has been invited to visit.

"So many Tucsonans don't know this is here," Kingston said. "For people who live in Tucson, it's important to see the history of their home, and it has a long history of occupation."

© 2017 Tucson Local Media. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

More about

More about

Welcome to the discussion.

Saturday 09/26/2015

Little goes right for the Wildcats

Saturday 09/19/2015

Records fall in lopsided win

Friday 09/04/2015

Arizona challenged by Roadrunners

Tuesday 08/18/2015

Arizona has few questions at QB

Thursday 08/06/2015

Cats open fall drills

Monday 03/09/2015

McConnell, Johnson finalists for awards Johnson Named FOY, Four Wildcats Honored by Pac-12

Monday 01/19/2015

Johnson named Player of the Week

Friday 01/16/2015

Wildcats down shorthanded Colorado

Monday 01/05/2015

Vote for Sean Miller & win $100,000 for the Tucson Ronald McDonald House

Monday 12/15/2014

Arts and Sciences Are Writing a New Love Story Together

Thursday 12/11/2014

More hardware for UA's Wright

Wednesday 12/10/2014

S.H.I.E.L.D half season finale delivers Cats get a glimpse of the future in blowout

Friday 11/14/2014

UA Eller College To Share Economic Outlook for 2015-2016

Wednesday 11/12/2014

UA Humanities Seminars

Tuesday 11/04/2014

What's Up UA? - Hiring Interns? Top 8 Tips for Companies

Wednesday 10/15/2014

What's Up UA? - Close Encounter 'One in a Million'

Monday 10/13/2014

What's Up UA? - Austin Hill: The Comeback Kid

Monday 10/06/2014

What's Up UA? - Health, Wellness Practices Highlighted by Chinese Culture Festival

Thursday 10/02/2014

What's Up UA? - Ready for a Super-Fast Internet? UA Scientists Are Fast at Work on It

Tuesday 09/30/2014

What's Up UA? - Using the Force: UA Police Officer Completes NASA Project

Monday 09/29/2014

What's Up UA? - How New Social Movements Take Root

Friday 09/26/2014

What's Up UA? - PBS 'NewsHour' to Feature Inspirational UA Student

Wednesday 09/24/2014

What's Up UA? - UA Paves Way to Redefine STEM Education

Monday 09/22/2014

What's Up UA? - Wildcats Rally, Hail Mary TD Defeats Cal, 49-45

Thursday 09/18/2014

What's Up UA? - When Job Loss Equals Weight Gain

Monday 09/15/2014

What's Up UA? - Don’t Underestimate Your Mind’s Eye

Thursday 09/11/2014

What's Up UA? - 'What I Wish I Had Known as a Freshman'

Tuesday 09/09/2014

What's Up UA? - UA Undergraduate Researchers Take to the Radio

Thursday 09/04/2014

What's Up UA? - Send Your Tweet – and Your Name – to an Asteroid

Tuesday 09/02/2014

What's Up UA? - Brown Foundations' $2.5 Million Kicks Off Catapult Corp

Thursday 08/28/2014

What's Up UA? - New Veterinary Degree Program Made Possible by $9M Gift is Critical for State

Monday 08/25/2014

What's Up UA? - Laser 'Lightning Rods' Channel Electricity Through Thin Air

Thursday 08/21/2014

What's Up UA? - UA Fall Enrollment Sets Record for Diversity, Number of Freshmen

Tuesday 08/19/2014

What's Up UA? - Remarkable Résumé: UA Student Journalist's Career Includes CNN, NYT Phoenix

Friday 08/15/2014

What's Up UA? - Through Innovative Partnership, 'Hot Shot' Team Tackles Yuma Produce Perils

Wednesday 08/13/2014

What's Up UA? - The UA Named a Top College by The Princeton Review

Monday 08/11/2014

What's Up UA? - UA Researchers Study Increasing Lifespan and Immune Function What's Up UA? - UA Undergrads Conducting Microgravity Research Aboard NASA's G-Force One

Monday 06/09/2014

What's up UA? - UA to Host U.S. and Mexico Officials Exploring Collaborations in Education, Innovation, Research

Thursday 06/05/2014

What's Up UA? - New Wilderness Medicine Class Hones Patient Care Skills in Rugged Conditions

Tuesday 06/03/2014

Track Cats Send Eight Athletes to TrackTown USA

Monday 06/02/2014

What's Up UA? - Bringing a Spacecraft Back From the Dead

Friday 05/30/2014

What's Up UA? - Heart Attack Patient Defies Odds with Tailored Surgical Treatment at UA Medical Center

Thursday 05/29/2014

What's Up UA? - UA Marketing Students Win National AT&T Competition

Tuesday 05/27/2014

What's Up UA? - Scientists Discover Genetic Basis of Pest Resistance to Biotech Cotton

Friday 05/23/2014

What's up UA? - Four UA Students Picked for Pat Tillman Foundation Scholarships

Wednesday 05/21/2014

What's Up UA? - Scientists Discover Genetic Basis of Pest Resistance to Biotech Cotton

Monday 05/19/2014

What's Up UA? - UA Tunnels Get Carbon Fiber Makeover


Follow us on Facebook

Online poll