Local

April 27, 2012

Seashells on BMGR point to prehistoric trading route

by Teresa Walker
56th fighter Wing Range Management Office
Tribe-April-2012-023
A traditional religious tribal leader holds a pottery shard found at Lago Saco during a three-day consultation meeting with Native American tribes from Arizona and New Mexico. This particular shard lay in the desert untouched by 56th RMO archaeologists until the tribal leader could verify what it was. Some cultural items are considered sacred and should not be handled by anyone other than a tribal member.

During three days in April, 19 tribal members from seven Arizona tribes and one from New Mexico gathered at Gila Bend Air Force Auxiliary Field for a consultation meeting sponsored by the 56th Range Management Office. Among them were representatives from the Tohono O’odham Nation and the Hia C-ed O’odham, Ak-Chin Indian Reservation, Gila River Akimel O’odham, Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian communities, Yavapai-Apache Nation and Pueblo of Zuni from New Mexico.

The 56th RMO manages the natural and cultural resources on the range to which many tribes have ancestral ties, having either lived on the land or migrated through the Barry M. Goldwater Range-East, or have origin stories relating to it. Ongoing consultation ensures protocols are established regarding identification and mitigation of impacts to natural and cultural resources, including prehistoric and historic archaeological sites and artifacts, natural water sources, and treatment of ancestral remains under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. One ancestral cremation has already been recovered during the excavation of a site in 1978 prior to the construction of the NTAC main airfield; this ancestor is currently located at the Arizona State Museum in Tucson.

Adrianne Rankin, 56th RMO archaeologist, organizes the consultation meetings and field trips several times per year.

“We have a number of federal requirements, including the National Historic Preservation Act and Defense Department American Indian Policy, for consultation regarding the identification of cultural resources, the effects of our mission on those resources, and mitigating impacts to cultural resources,” Rankin said. “In addition, we consult on larger issues such as field methods employed to identify and record sites, testing and excavation of archaeological sites, and development of various comprehensive plans and agreement documents.”

On the first day, Rankin gave a presentation about the history of cultural resource management on the range. She covered information regarding the landscape of the range and specific archeology found there. The consultation meeting also included field trips to several archaeological sites, which are considered by many tribes to be traditional cultural places or sacred sites. TCPs include rock art, which is a window in time to their ancestors, mountain tops, springs, rock formations or specific cactus.

The group visited archaeological sites at auxiliary field 8. The location was selected because of the significant erosion and input from the tribes concerning the cultural resources located there was vital. According to Rankin, standardizing the field methods used to collect the artifacts is essential so that in future cases, imperiled items from eroded features can be saved and then preserved. The field methods used by archaeologists must be precise.

Dr. David Doyel, 56th Range Management Office archaeologist, discusses protocol with Barnaby Lewis of the Gila River Indian Community while Larry Benallie of the same tribe looks on. Protocols are established to identify and mitigate impacts to cultural resources discovered at Lago Saco and other sites on the Barry M. Goldwater Range-East. 56th RMO conducts ongoing consultations with Native American tribes who claim an affiliation with the BMGR.

The group also visited Lago Saco, a site located in a restricted area to which the majority had not previously been. Lago Saco is situated around a dry lake bed that may have had water prehistorically. Rankin had already identified that it was a major shell trading village where prehistoric tribes traded sea shells, salt, and obsidian from the BMGR-East for painted pottery, agricultural foods, such as corn, and other exotic items. At least three archaeological cultures were using this site.“Just in and around the eroded areas we counted more than 2,000 artifacts,” Rankin said. “As we recover them, each artifact will have GPS coordinates recorded before being bagged so we can actually reconstruct the site in the GIS database. Using this method of recording, we will know spatial relationships of artifacts that we study to understand human behavior.”

Seashells in the middle of the desert? How did that happen?

It’s not a mystery to the people whose ancestors crossed or lived on what is now known as the Barry M. Goldwater Range, or to the archaeologists who work on the range – they know exactly how those seashells and many other artifacts got there.

“The Sonoran Desert has been inhabited for over 10,000 years and was a trade corridor to the Gulf of California so the artifacts of human activity are abundant on range,” Rankin said. “We’ve taken great measures to inventory the resources under our care. To date, we’ve surveyed over 200,000 acres on the range, recording more than 1,300 archaeological sites. Visiting these locations is important to the tribes and they appreciate the effort to allow them to visit their ancestral lands that are now part of the Goldwater Range.”

The 56th RMO has implemented extensive programs to preserve the cultural infrastructure of the BMGR and is actively involved with local, state, federal agencies and tribes to insure success of these programs, establishing a model of stewardship for other military ranges. The RMO also has a dedicated Native American liaison who works with the tribes on airspace and other issues.




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