February 2008

As the end of February 2008 arrived, fieldwork for the Joint Courts Archaeological Project also neared its end. Sixteen months after we began, excavations in the project area were all but complete. Only minor field tasks (albeit a substantial list of them) awaited completion before the anticipated end of fieldwork on March 14. As in every preceding month of fieldwork, we spent February focused on the excavation of graves in the former National Cemetery. By the end of the month, the total number of discovered graves had reached 1,090, and only a few discovered graves remained unexcavated. During February, grave excavations were limited almost entirely to the eastern portion of Council Street, an area with the same fairly regular distribution of graves seen in most of the former cemetery and contrasting sharply with the high grave density seen under the western portion of Council Street.

Despite the comparatively low density of graves in the eastern portion of Council Street, the excavation of individual graves was slowed and complicated by the presence of multiple utility trenches running east-west across the project area. These trenches ranged in width from less than 1 foot to almost 4 feet, and in depth from less than 1 foot to more than 7 feet. The utilities they held included water, gas, sewer, and electric, both main and secondary lines, many only recently disconnected. There were also numerous household services in smaller trenches branching off the larger trenches and dating to different parts of the project area’s development. Each of the larger utility trenches had disturbed, to varying degrees, a large number of graves, and a good part of our efforts in February consisted of recording partially disturbed graves and carefully screening adjacent trench fill for displaced skeletal remains and burial-associated artifacts.

A single utility remains in place under Council Street: the high-voltage electrical lines owned by Tucson Electric Power (TEP). These lines will also be disconnected once a reroute of the lines around the project area has been completed. Construction of the reroute began in February and is being carried out by an engineering contractor working under a separate contract with Pima County. The reroute consists of a new trench that begins at the intersection of Council Street and Stone Avenue, heads south down Stone Avenue to Alameda Street, and then east down Alameda to Sixth Avenue. Because the new trench passes in close proximity to the former National Cemetery (and in the vicinity of other archaeological sites recorded in earlier projects), Pima County asked the Joint Courts Archaeological Project to monitor the trenching for possible accidental discoveries of cemetery-related or other archaeological features. One of our crew has been working the 10-hour night shift since the start of the reroute project on February 11. As of the end of the month, there had been no discoveries of archaeological features in the construction right of way.

Within the Joint Courts project area, we have removed the fill from the upper portion of the TEP trench and screened it for displaced skeletal remains and burial-associated artifacts. Because it is the widest and deepest trench in Council Street, the TEP trench disturbed a large number of burials, and the amount of displaced bone recovered from the trench fill has been considerable. Once the TEP lines are disconnected, which will not happen for another few months, we will return to the project area to remove the concrete conduit holding the lines, screen the remainder of the trench fill, and explore the area below the trench for additional grave features. The TEP trench is quite deep—almost 7 feet at its deepest— which means the chances of intact graves being present below the trench are low, but we are obligated by the terms of our contract with Pima County (and by archaeological principle) to ensure that no grave, no matter how badly disturbed, is left behind.

In addition to the excavation of the remaining graves in the National Cemetery, we also spent part of February completing the excavation of several deep privy pits found in the project area during earlier months. Most notably, we finally reached the bottom of the privy pit associated with the former residence at 34 East Alameda Street, but only after abandoning our original plan to excavate the entire feature by hand. When we had excavated this pit by hand to a depth of approximately 25 feet—with the concomitant mechanical excavation of stepped terraces around it to comply with OSHA excavation safety regulations—we were still unable to detect the bottom of the pit with a 3-foot soil probe. We decided to use a 4-inch-diameter bucket auger (with multiple extensions) to explore the maximum depth of the feature. When this procedure indicated a maximum depth of more than 32 feet, we knew we could no longer continue hand excavation because the necessary OSHA terracing would not only require a tremendous amount of earthmoving but would probably extend beyond the limits of the project area. We resigned ourselves to excavating the lowermost 7 feet or more of the pit by backhoe, using arbitrary excavation levels.

Also in February, we explored a variety of features discovered in earlier months outside the limits of the cemetery and associated with either the original residential or the later commercial development of the project area. One feature of particular interest was a partial basement located in the northern portion of the project area, part of the house that once stood at 286 North Stone Avenue. This house was immediately north of 270 North Stone, the former residence of John and Dolores Brown, one of the first houses built in the project area and occupied by the Browns for over 30 years. Like 286 North Stone, 270 North Stone also had a partial basement, documented in earlier months of the project. The house at 286 North Stone belonged to Fred and Amelia Steward and was similarly occupied for many years by that family. Mr. Steward was a local banker; Mrs. Steward, born Amelia Brown, was the daughter of John and Dolores Brown. The similarity of the two partial basements, both of which incorporated brick and dressed basalt in their construction, suggests that the two houses shared a single builder, although other aspects of the two houses, notably the floor plans and orientations, were distinct.

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Pima County, Arizona

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Tucson, AZ 85701

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