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Discovery of Hohokam ruins surprises archaeologists
AUTHOR: Daniel González, The Arizona Republic

The discovery last fall of an ancient Hohokam village and the remains of several humans in a heavily populated area of south Phoenix surprised archaeologists, who had believed there was little chance of finding more Native American ruins within the city.

Archaeologists kept the discovery a secret for several months while they removed human remains and completed a study because they wanted to protect the site from vandals and looters.

The archaeologists have finished their work and believe all the human remains and burial artifacts have been removed.

The greatest prehistoric farming civilization in the Americas was located where Phoenix now stands. Dozens of Hohokam villages and farmsteads once dotted the landscape.

Archaeologists thought most, if not all, of the more than 700 known sites had been mapped.

"The fact that this is such a late discovery makes it extra valuable," said Todd Bostwick, the city's official archaeologist at the Pueblo Grande Museum and Archaeological Park.

Archaeologists found the ruins in November, inches below the surface in a field near 24th Street and Roeser Road where a major subdivision is planned.

The 100-acre site is one of the last patches of undeveloped land in an area of the city where the real estate market is booming.

Under state law, an archaeological survey is required before most construction projects can begin.

The discovery raised the prospect that more Hohokam ruins lay undiscovered in south Phoenix.

The remains had been partially cremated before burial, Bostwick said.

The human remains will be turned over this month to the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, the descendents of the Hohokam, for reburial, said Janet Johnson, a spokeswoman for the tribe. Spiritual leaders from the tribe blessed the remains before archaeologists removed them from the ground.

State law requires human remains to be repatriated to the descendants of prehistoric peoples for reburial.

It is done as a sign of respect to the dead, Johnson said, and also so, in accordance with Native American beliefs, the spirits can be put to rest again.

"We bring them back home where the proper ceremonies will take place to put their spirits at ease again," she said.

Bostwick said the information gathered by archaeologists at the site will be useful in further understanding the Hohokam people.

From about A.D. 1 to 1450, the Hohokam engineered hundreds of miles of canals to irrigate their fields.

He speculated that the ruins were part of a small Hohokam village or farmstead.

The find temporarily delayed the development of a master-planned subdivision, said Kate Crietor, housing development manager for the city's Neighborhood Services Department.

The subdivision, which will include 760 houses, is being constructed as part of a city redevelopment project.

Now, the developer, Chandler-based Trend Homes, can move forward with the project.

Reed Porter, Trend Homes' president, said his company plans to break ground in the fall.

Johna Hitira, who led the team of archaeologists that conducted the study, said the site was once used for farming. Early settlers often destroyed Indian ruins to clear land for farming, she said.

Archaeologists knew canals constructed by the Hohokam existed under the surface there, but they had no idea the area also included ruins and human remains, she said.

In all, archaeologists discovered two clusters of pit houses the Hohokam had constructed out of brush and mud, Hitira said.

Hitira is the vice president of Tempe-based Northland Research, which conducted the survey and study.

Each cluster included about five or six pit houses that were once inhabited by 15 to 20 people, she said.

The human remains were found inside one of the clusters.

The team also discovered a single pit house that Hitira speculated the Hohokam used as a field house.

Hitira said it's too early to say how old the ruins are, but she speculated they date back at least 1,000 years.

You can reach Daniel González at daniel.gonzalez@arizonarepublic.com or at (602) 444-8312.

Visit the Arizona Republic website.

Predecesors of the Hohokam Indians
The Hohokam Indians of the Tucson Basin
Hunting and Gathering Practices of the Hohokam
Agriculture of the Hohokam Indians
Clothing and footwear of the Hohokam

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