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March 22, 2012

Archeologists unearth artifacts at Luke AFB

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U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Sandra Welch

LUKE AIR FORCE BASE, Ariz. — Luke Air Force Base plans to build a large solar array on the south side of the base to help offset energy costs. First, however, site preparation must be done, including mitigation of surface archaeology and testing for subsurface archaeology.

Unbeknownst to anyone, significant findings lay just a foot beneath the surface.

“This site could be of importance to Arizona and the Phoenix valley,” said John Hall, senior project director with Statistical Research doing the excavation. “We had some of the artifacts dated and this site is almost 1,000 years older than any other site in the Phoenix valley.”

The excavation team has found thousands of artifacts around the area to help them get an idea of how the people here lived.

“We believe the people to be nomadic,” Hall said. “We found storage holes filled with stone tools and other things. The stone used clearly comes from a river, very different from the stone around Luke.”

One of the things about the site archeologists found interesting was that it dated to the poorly understood Middle and Late Archaic periods of the Phoenix Basin and south-central Arizona between 3,000 and 1,000 B.C.

“The things we have found here will allow a very detailed examination of these ancient life ways,” Hall said. “This is an unprecedented opportunity not included in the more than 100 years of documented archaeological work in and around the Phoenix Basin.”

Archeologists have long studied the Hohokam of the Phoenix valley – one of three major prehistoric archaeological traditions of the American Southwest – including they way they lived, the farming they did and the plants they grew. The Hohokam occupied the valley and much of southern Arizona from A.D. 1-ca. 1450. The Hohokam grew corn, beans, squash and agave. They also built hundreds of miles of canals throughout the valley to irrigate their agricultural fields. This site has offered a new perspective into the lives of people thousands of years before that.

“This site is 2,000 years older than the Hohokam. These people could be their ancestors,” Hall said. “They were from a time before agriculture, before maze was brought up from Mexico. This will help us understand lots of things. We can get a better idea of how people got food before farming. We can narrow down the time frame when maize was brought from the south. We have 5,000 years of history right here to help us understand things. This could change our understanding of the prehistoric people of the valley.”

The location of Luke attracted the Native Americans who lived here 5,000 years ago, as well as the Air Force in the 1940s.

“The land here is in a great location,” Hall said. “You have the White Tank Mountains and the Aqua Fria River both right here close by. There was food and water at hand, and we think they may have moved between the foothills and the river over their course through the valley.”

The land being excavated is located by the south end of the runway and was not being used for anything before the solar array was planned.

“We have land here that was not being utilized because of the noise from the end of the runway,” said 1st Lt Chris Warshaw, 56th Civil Engineer Squadron. “We have a perfect spot for a solar array that could generate almost 50 percent of the electricity the base consumes.”

The solar array is still planned to be built, but it will take longer than initially planned due to the mitigation phase.

“We need to thank Luke,” Hall said “Because if the base had not been here, the land probably would have been dug up years ago to make room for houses or farms.”




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(U.S. Air Force Illustration by Airman 1st Class Cheyenne Morigeau)

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