March 2007

During March 2007, Statistical Research, Inc. (SRI) continued archaeological excavations in the Joint Courts Complex (JCC) project area. Work for the month included preparations for the transfer of the field lab out of 240 North Stone (which will soon be demolished) and into two modular buildings placed in the project area. By the end of the month, the many logistical challenges of the transfer were met, the modulars were in place, and we were poised to carry out the move. Fieldwork continued uninterrupted throughout the month, and the number of archaeological features discovered in the project area grew steadily. Most significantly, the total number of discovered graves increased to 286, up from the total of 232 discovered graves by the end of February.

All of the 54 graves discovered in March were located in the civilian portion of the National Cemetery. Most were found in the area just north of Council Street and east of the building at 240 North Stone. This area shows an apparent continuation of the relatively dense concentration of graves identified in earlier months immediately south of Council Street. The continuation in density was not a surprise and has strengthened our suspicion that the ground below 240 North Stone, which encompasses part of the core area of the civilian cemetery, holds a large number of graves.

The excavation of graves in the civilian portion of the National Cemetery has provided a number of insights into burial practices, the use of space, and the frequency of exhumation in the cemetery. One notable example: the long axis of every grave discovered to date runs approximately east-west. As noted in an earlier progress report, the heads of some graves were placed to the east and the heads of others to the west, but not a single grave has been found with anything other than a basically east-west orientation. In most cases, the actual orientation of the grave is just slightly off east-west, with the east end shifted a few degrees north, which today contrasts with the regular east-west and north-south alignments of adjacent streets. The orientation of graves slightly off east-west undoubtedly reflects the establishment of the cemetery a decade before the town site of Tucson was formally surveyed in 1872. After 1872, a regular gridwork of streets with east-west and north-south orientations surrounded the original, irregular streets of downtown Tucson, and the National Cemetery itself became part of a large, newly delimited rectangular parcel within the town site. But before 1872, graves were placed in the cemetery using other spatial references. Discovering what those references were and how they may have changed during the life of the cemetery is the subject of ongoing study.

As another example of how space was used in the National Cemetery, we have been surprised by how easy it has been to discern regular rows in the layout of graves in the cemetery’s large civilian portion. Before the project began, we anticipated finding regular rows in the small military portion of the cemetery, because we had clear documentary references to such rows. But in the absence of any reference to rows in the civilian portion, we wondered how regular the layout of graves there would be. It turns out that the layout of virtually all of the civilian portion of the cemetery excavated to date has at least some semblance of rows. In a few areas, the rows are quite regular in appearance, with fairly regular spacing between graves, while in other areas the rows meander and bifurcate. The spacing between graves in the latter areas is also less regular, with some areas having very tight spacing. As we would expect in a cemetery that was essentially unregulated during its entire period of use, no single pattern of grave layout is discernible across the cemetery, but the people using the cemetery clearly had a tacit understanding of how and where graves should be placed. This is also confirmed by the small number of cases we have found of later graves intruding on earlier graves. Even in the absence of formal regulation, the people using the cemetery had a good idea of where graves had already been placed, which suggests that individual graves were usually well marked. It may also mean that an as-yet-undiscovered formal record was maintained of the overall placement of graves in the cemetery.

As a final note on burial practices in the National Cemetery, we have been surprised by the very low incidence of exhumation in the civilian portion of the cemetery. We suspected at the start of the project that many civilian burials were never exhumed, but it is striking how few empty civilian graves we have found.

Also during March, exploratory excavations to the north of the building at 240 North Stone uncovered the foundation of the John and Dolores Brown residence, which stood at 270 North Stone from around 1890 into the 1930s. Unfortunately, only faint traces of what was probably a stone and mortar foundation for the house have survived. Much of the large lot occupied by the Brown residence remains to be excavated; we hope that other features asociated with the residence, such as privy pits or trash features, are still intact.