July 2007

During July 2007, archaeological work in the Joint Courts project area continued to focus on the discovery and excavation of graves in the former National Cemetery. An important goal for the month was to complete exploratory excavation of the full extent of the former cemetery as it is preserved within the project boundary. The purpose of the exploratory excavation is to estimate, as closely as possible, the total number of graves within the project area, which will inform our plans for fieldwork and post-fieldwork analysis over the coming months. By the end of July, we had completed exploratory excavation of about 90 percent of the former cemetery and had identified 955 graves. This represents an increase of 97 over our total at the end of June (858 graves). About 10 percent of the cemetery is still inaccessible because of unresolved buried-utility issues, but once we are able to explore the remaining area, our total grave count for the project will likely exceed 1,100. To date, we have fully excavated 448 graves.

One part of the former cemetery left unexplored until July was the area under the sidewalk along the east side of Stone Avenue. Early in the project, our exploratory excavations indicated that at least a few graves extended under the Stone Avenue sidewalk, but the sidewalk was, at that time, just outside the project fence. In July, we temporarily relocated the fence to the Stone Avenue curb, which has allowed us to remove much of the concrete sidewalk and explore the underlying area for graves and other features. Because of unresolved utility issues, the portion of the sidewalk south of Council Street is still in place, but we have removed all of the sidewalk north of Council and explored below it. Surprisingly, the number of graves present under the removed portion the sidewalk is quite low. This suggests that the practical western limit of the cemetery corresponded more or less with the east edge of the modern Stone Avenue sidewalk, and only occasionally was a burial placed beyond that limit. We will not know until the sidewalk is removed south of Council Street whether this pattern holds for the full length of the cemetery’s west side. We anticipate completing excavation under the Stone Avenue sidewalk by the end of September, at which time we will reposition the project fence along its original alignment.

Another part of the project area explored for the first time in July was the alley that runs north-south between Council and Alameda Streets. Unresolved utility issues are still preventing us from thoroughly exploring the alley, but we have been able to establish, with reasonable confidence, the number and distribution of graves. The southern part of the alley falls within the presumed limits of the military cemetery that occupied the southwest corner of the National Cemetery. We anticipated finding additional graves in the third of three rows discovered in our earlier excavations along the east side of the military cemetery, just east of the alley. We did find the rest of the third row, but we were somewhat surprised to discover that the area just west of that row was empty of graves. It appears that at least one small area in the military cemetery, corresponding to the north end of a fourth row of graves and perhaps an additional area to the west, was never used for its intended purpose. This is supported by a list of graves in the military cemetery prepared by the Fort Lowell quartermaster in 1884, which indicates that there were three full rows of graves plus a fourth, partial row. The same list indicates that the remainder of the military cemetery was used for both military and civilian burials, but it does not specify the arrangement of graves or the amount of unused space.

Virtually all of the cemetery west of the alley was destroyed by the 1940 and 1953 basement excavations for the Tucson Newspapers building. The destruction included the remainder of the military cemetery within the project area, plus a sizeable part of the civilian cemetery. This means we will be unable to tell just how used or unused most of the military cemetery was, or how far south the area of densely packed graves discovered in Council Street once extended (see the progress report for June for a discussion of this unique area). In the northern part of the alley, we discovered a continuation of the pattern of graves found in the civilian cemetery just to the east, but with considerable disturbance both by the many utility trenches that run through the alley and by the eastern margin of the excavation for the Tucson Newspapers basement. Photographs of the 1953 basement excavation suggest that the alley escaped direct impact from the basement, but the photographs were apparently taken before the excavation was partially extended into the alley. One part of the extension was for a large, underground, concrete transformer vault apparently built to serve the Tucson Newspapers building. The vault does not appear on modern utility maps for the project area and was long forgotten, but we rediscovered it in the course of our exploratory excavations.

We began our work in the alley with some hope that we would find prehistoric features associated with the Cienega-phase pit house that we found just east of the alley earlier this year. Despite a careful search, we did not find any other trace of the prehistoric occupation of the project area. The many disturbances in the alley may have destroyed or obscured such features, but enough of the alley escaped disturbance to suggest that our failure to find prehistoric features reflects the relatively isolated character of the pit house.

In late September or early October, we will begin excavation in the southernmost portion of the alley, the portion currently outside our project fence and adjacent to the east wall of the Chicanos Por La Causa building (200 North Stone). The project fence will be repositioned to include this area as well as the sidewalk along the north side of Alameda Street. Our earlier work discovered several graves extending into the southernmost portion of the alley, and we anticipate finding other graves in the partial fourth row of the military cemetery. Other graves not in documented rows may also be present, although a good portion of the alley was destroyed in the early 1960s during excavation for another underground transformer vault that currently serves Chicanos Por La Causa.