Archeologists are continuing their work at the Ina Road Wastewater Treatment plant. And as Christopher Conover reports, as they scrape each layer they are finding that the Tucson basin has been inhabited for thousands of years.

Archaeology dig in Tucson Archaeology dig in Tucson

For nearly a year archaeologists have been digging, scraping and sifting away thousands of years of history at the Waste Water Treatment Plant at the corner of Ina and I-10. In the spring the team from Desert Archaeology was working on an ancient set of canals and agricultural fields. Now they’ve literally moved deeper and further back in time.

Archaeology dig

What we’re doing now is stripping off those canals. We stripped below them to a lower cultural horizon that dates from about 1250 B.C. to around 1150 B.C., 1100.

And each layer of earth that is stripped away yields more information about the early inhabitants of the Tucson Basin.

We’ve already stripped away the fields, the older fields, and what we have exposed now are primarily roasting pit features, large bell-shaped storage pit features and a possible pit house structure.

And while pit houses may not be that uncommon, archaeologists on the site are making some interesting discoveries.

One is a variation in architectural style that hadn’t been seen before in Tucson Basin. Several of the houses that we excavated were rectangular and had ramped entryways and that’s an unusual form for this time period. Typically the houses are circular in form with no well defined formal entryway. What that means we can only hypothesize at this point but it may indicate some variation in population of people who may have moved down here from the north perhaps or some sort of cultural variations, social variations.

When you think of archaeology, so often the image of people using small trowels and even paintbrushes to delicately strip away the years comes to mind. However, on this site one of the precision instruments used is a backhoe.

Archaeology dig

Well, I can go to a 32nd of an inch, I can shave the dirt off. And to find these because of the laminates and a lot of them are laid down in very thin layers, it takes that to find it cause if you take too much it’s like pages in a book. If you remove ten pages, you’ve lost a lot of the story so it’s one page at a time.

And if you question the precision of a bladed backhoe, how about writing your name with it. Dan can. But Dan is more than just a skilled backhoe operator. He’s also an archaeologist.

I get off and start doing work on the ground with features and stuff it’s kind of like, shouldn’t you be back on the machine? I say, well, no, this is my job. This is what I do.

As the pages of time are scraped away, archaeologists are learning that the Tucson Basin has had people in it for a long time.

The principal occupation runs from about 1250 B.C. to 800 B.C. There is limited use of the site area after that from about, it picks up again at about somewhere around 700 B.C. and sporadic use all the way up through the Hohokam era and then ultimately culminating in modern farming.

The archaeologists plan on wrapping up the field work portion of the project by the end of the summer.

Desert Archaeology