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April 19, 2013

Archaeologists tour Luke’s 5,000 year old site

Archaeology field technicians search for artifacts at Archaeological Site 419. The site was discovered when Native American artifacts were found during a site survey done in preparation for construction of a solar array.

Thirty professional archaeologists and students toured the Luke Air Force Base Solar-Power-Array project area April 12 to learn about the find at the site and its rich history.

Luke members teamed with the Arizona Public Service, a major electric company in the Phoenix area, to construct and operate the solar array during the planning phase. Archaeologists discovered artifacts on the surface.

“The finding of these surface artifacts clued us in that there may be more underneath,” said John Hall, Statistical Research Incorporated project director. “In the summer of 2010, we began excavating doing backhoe trenches and mechanic stripping, which is removal of the top soil.”

After three years of hard work, archaeologists uncovered approximately 46 acres through mechanical stripping, revealing 3,500 features or remnants of past activities such as fire pits and housing structures.

“We consider the people who lived here archaic, since radio carbon dates show that the features are anywhere from 3000 B.C. to 1400 A.D.,” Hall said. “This site is also one of a kind because it’s so old and no one in the Phoenix basin has ever found this many archaic features before.”

Rachelle Robinson, archaeological field technician, screens dirt for artifacts at Archaeological Site 419 April 12. Dirt from the digging is screened and scanned to find small artifacts that may be missed by the human eye.

Because of the uniqueness and rarity of the site, it is important for Luke to reach out to local professionals and students in the area.

“The purpose of the tour was to share information about the project and the features found,” said Jeff Rothrock, 56th Civil Engineer Squadron Environmental Flight chief. “The tour gave professionals and students an opportunity to examine in detail the cultural heritage of Luke, the Phoenix basin, Arizona and the greater U.S. Southwest.”

The archaeologists also took a walking tour of the different archaeological features, including pit houses, armadas and storage areas.

“This site is very interesting because it covers a period of time that is relatively unknown and a time we rarely see,” said Walter Duering, Arizona Museum of Natural History archaeologist.

Deter Byler, archaeological field technician, maps the depth of a hole at the site. Mapping the depth of holes helps determine the amount of digging required.

The amount of features found made it even more special.

“It’s remarkable to find so many features in one site associated with this early time period,” said Sandy Haddock, Arizona Archaeological Society vice president. “I’m glad to have been able to see such an important, rare and large site.”

The project is slated to be completed by May 1. Once all the excavated dirt is put back and compacted, the site will be ready for APS to begin the solar array project by October.




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