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Canyon Notes


By Cynthia Benedict

In 1985-86 as a graduate student at Texas Tech University, I conducted an archaeological survey of the Santa Rita Experimental Range east of Green Valley. The Experimental Range covered 53,159 acres (roughly 83 square miles). In seven months, I completed a systematic sample survey of 15% of the entire area. This sample allowed me to examine all the different plant zones within the entire range of elevation in the study area. Due to the vast size of the Experimental Range and that fact I only had one surveyor to help me, it was not practical to do a 100% survey. The 1,189-acre parcel of land proposed for the Kettenbach development as the Cielo Madera Estates is adjacent (immediately south and west) to my research study area.

During my survey, I located and documented 46 prehistoric archaeological sites affiliated with the Hohokam. The Hohokam are the ancestors of the O’odam-Piman people, and they inhabited the Sonoran desert from about AD 650 until around 1450 when the communities began to reorganize and relocate. The sites I documented included artifact scatters, agricultural sites for agave cultivation and roasting, plant (food) processing sites, small campsites, village sites with trash mounds, and one rock-art site. My work continues to be the largest archaeological survey effort in the area. Although my survey encompassed only 15% of the entire Experimental Range, it demonstrated that the bajada supported valuable natural resources and attracted prehistoric peoples who utilized the area extensively for resource procurement, agriculture, and habitation.

The majority of sites I found on the Santa Rita Experimental Range were situated on the upper bajada, at an elevation of 3,600 - 4,400 ft. This corresponds closely to the range of elevation of the Cielo Madera Estates where development is proposed.  Archaeological sites are common on these upper bajada settings throughout the Tucson Basin, and it is very likely that there are sites present in and around the proposed Cielo Madera Estates, given its similarity to the Experimental Range in its elevation, setting, and topography. This area has been conducive to human settlement for millennia because the soils are suitable for agriculture, there are valuable stone resources in the mountains, and abundant plant resources on the bajada. All of these resources were valued and utilized by the Hohokam that inhabited villages on the upper bajada as well as the lower bajada nearer the Santa Cruz River. The entire area around Green Valley and extending to the base of the Santa Rita mountains is rich in archaeological resources.

The larger sites I found in my study area were village sites. Some contained surface architecture and trash mounds. Although my study documented only what was visible on the surface of these sites, there is no doubt that those sites contain buried cultural deposits. On the surface, it is often the subtle indications of a structural feature or the presence of artifacts that indicate to the surveyor that the site exists. Common artifacts found on these types of sites include pottery shards, projectile points, flaked stone from tool making, imported shell used to make jewelry, hammer stones, knives and axes, and portable ground stone such as manos and metates.

Projects such as the development of the Kettenbach property will require an intensive archaeological survey. Once a survey is conducted, there is a high probability that archaeological resources will be encountered in the development area. These surveys are necessary in order to identify sites, assess the potential impacts of the proposed development, and develop a plan to mitigate the impacts. Mitigation is often done through project redesign or data recovery (excavation).

Archaeological resources are fragile and irreplaceable. Given the population expansion in the Tucson Basin, there are few areas left where archaeological sites have remained largely protected from development. The desert grasslands of the Santa Rita Experimental Range including the private lands at the base of Madera Canyon is one of those places. There is an excellent chance that the parcel proposed for the Kettenbach development contains undisturbed archaeological sites. These resources have the potential to yield valuable information to add to our greater understanding of prehistoric settlement of the area, and at the same time, enhance the character and intrinsic value of the land simply by the presence of its archaeological resources.

Stone tools including arrowheads, dart points, and bifaces found during an archaeological survey on the grasslands below Madera Canyon. Photo by Cynthia Benedict


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