Archaeologists dig up pottery they discovered on the north east corner of Longmore and Osborn road. Photo by Tom Wright of EPNR

Lunch & Learn: “Archaeology Work and Cultural Practices in the Community"

By Richie Corrales
Au-Authm Action News

On December 27, Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community members and employees sat in on a Lunch and Learn presentation, “Archaeology Work and Cultural Practices in the Community,” sponsored by the Cultural Resources Department (CRD) and the Community Development Department (CDD). The session was held at the CRD office and led by instructors Tom Wright, CDD staff archaeologist, and Shane Anton, manager of the CRD Cultural Preservation Program. The goal of these presentations is to expand cultural awareness among new Community employees and interested Community members.

What Are Archaeology and Anthropology?
To begin the session, Wright asked those in attendance what their thoughts were on archaeology. He then reviewed the meanings behind words such as “culture,” “anthropology” and “archaeology.”

“Archaeology is not about Raiders of the Lost Ark or about finding dinosaurs; it’s more about finding human pasts and studying and recording their history,” said Wright. “We look to find their culture by examining physical clues.”

Wright explained that archaeologists and anthropologists put together the clues left behind by a culture, in this case the Hohokam, to develop a sense of what daily life was like for them. How did they live, what did they eat, what tools did they make and use?

As slides showed different areas of the Community, Wright pointed out visible marks left on the land of what were once canals dug by the Hohokam. These marks can still be seen throughout the Community.

Anton and Wright discussed the word “Hohokam” and how it is interpreted differently among various Indian tribes and archaeologists. “To [archaeologists] it’s just a word meaning ‘used up or gone,’ but to [Indian] tribes it means ‘those who have gone,’” said Anton. Wright said he has had a hard time explaining the difference to other archaeologists.

Other topics addressed were pottery, trading practices, tool-making and digging canals.

Ancient Indians decorated pottery with animal and human figures only during a certain time period, while pottery usually had been left plain thousands of years before; the information remains unclear as to why that was.

Archaeologists have found the same tools, pottery and shells in California and across the Southwest, indicating that Indian tribes traded with each other across the region. For example, Wright noted that specific types of rocks were used to create tools or as crushing stones, also known as metates, which Indians used to grind flour. A rock sample from Saddleback Mountain was displayed.

Archaeologists have found that rock throughout Arizona and the Southwest and believe the Hohokam had sort of a trading area or something similar to a business that allowed other tribes to acquire that rock and use it for making tools.

Wright noted that anthropologists have not yet discovered why the Hohokam started to bury their dead instead of using cremation, which was done earlier. “There is a suggestion that maybe the Hohokam were running out of wood to burn, and thus chose to bury; or, their religious beliefs might have come into play,” said Wright.

Someone asked a question about the Hohokam digging canals with sticks. Wright said that, according to many findings, people did use sticks for this purpose. Hundreds of people would come together to help dig using sticks, and also possibly baskets to dig and carry out the dirt.

“[They had] only limited resources, and the simplest of tools were used to dig and build,” said Wright.

Safeguarding the Past
Wright also discussed his job as the Community’s staff archaeologist. He is required to review proposed new construction projects where the land will be disturbed and act as a record keeper.

Recently, Wright and his team conducted an excavation at the site of the future SRPMIC Community Court and found more than 100 artifacts and nine large pit houses containing pottery and remains. He shared the process that the staff and other archaeologists used to uncover the artifacts and showed an aerial view of the site.

“We never wrote things down in the Community, but only relied on traditions and storytelling,” said Anton.

Anton asked those present to consider the value of archaeology and why it’s important for Community culture keepers to retain control over Hohokam and Community artifacts.

“Archaeology is a science of digging for the past, and we have to stay in tune with our culture and our beliefs,” said Anton. The proper handling of human remains, and returning human remains and other artifacts to the Indian tribes (repatriation), is a particularly sensitive subject among tribes, archaeologists and anthropologists. He said, “A lot of the remains [archaeologists] find, they want to study to get dates and facts about us, and we want [the remains] back to have them [properly] buried.”

Anton explained that once an archaeological site is uncovered, it is forever disturbed and there is no going back.

Repeating History
History is about moving on, which is what the Hohokam did hundreds of years ago. Current burial grounds have been located on top of past burial grounds, as well as homes and other buildings, within the Community. This resolved a question from a concerned employee about the new court building being built on an archaeological site.

“We are just repeating our past,” said Anton. “We are building and moving forward, and it is recorded, and we have done this in the past.

For information on upcoming O’odham and Piipaash cultural presentations, contact the CRD at (480) 362-6325.

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