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December 2007

The Joint Courts Archaeological Project was closed for the last 10 calendar days of 2007, which made December a short month of fieldwork. Nevertheless, during the first three weeks of the month, excavation in the former National Cemetery and the adjacent portions of the project area continued apace. By the end of the month, the total number of discovered graves had reached 1,049, and the total number of fully excavated graves was 865. Most of the increase in both numbers came from our continued excavation of the unusually dense concentration of graves found below the western portion of Council Street. We anticipate completing excavation of this area in the first month of 2008, which will leave only two parts of the former cemetery left to excavate: the eastern portion of Council Street and the remainder of the alley between Council and Alameda Streets.

Outside the limits of the former cemetery, we have now completely explored all of the project area west of Grossetta Avenue. We have only three small areas left to explore: Grossetta Avenue itself; the portion of Council Street east of Grossetta; and the triangular parcel at the northeast corner of Council and Grossetta. The triangular parcel, which is the only portion of the project area that never saw residential development, was entirely occupied by a commercial laundry from the early 1900s until about 1960. We have now removed all of the asphalt from this parcel and will begin mechanically stripping it in January. Grossetta Avenue and the east end of Council Street are still paved but we will remove all of the remaining asphalt over the next few weeks. Because both streets were established in 1890, the year the project area was first subdivided for development, we do not anticipate finding any historical-period archaeological features under the pavement, apart from abandoned utility lines.

Our work with other features that postdate the former cemetery included removal of the 10-foot-wide concrete cap that ran along the south side of Council Street, atop the deep trench that holds the still-active high-voltage electrical lines. We will eventually remove all of the fill in this trench and explore below the lines, but we’ll have to wait until the lines are disconnected sometime in 2008. While removing the concrete cap and the sidewalk immediately adjacent to it, we discovered an intact portion of the basement of the old Tucson Newspapers building. This alcove-like extension of the basement was located immediately below the Council Street sidewalk and once held the large tanks of ink that fed the newspaper printing press. Based on our knowledge of the design and layout of the former building, we knew that the basement once had this extension, but we were uncertain whether it was still intact. Like the rest of the two-story basement, this extension destroyed whatever portion of the cemetery once existed within its footprint. The extension is now filled with the same post-demolition fill placed in the rest of the basement.

Within the former cemetery, we finally gained access to the alley immediately adjacent to the east side of the Chicanos Por La Causa building (200 North Stone Avenue), as well as the sidewalk along the north side of Alameda Street just east of the alley. As we anticipated, mechanical stripping of the overburden in this portion of the alley has revealed several feature outlines corresponding to the fourth row of graves in the former military cemetery. Like the other three rows of military graves documented in excavation earlier in the project, these newly discovered graves were probably subject to exhumation by a U.S. Army contractor in 1884. Our pending excavation of these features will establish whether exhumation actually took place in every case and how thorough the exhumations were.

Our exploration of the area below the Alameda sidewalk has proven especially interesting. This small area at the southern edge of the project area was added to our scope of work relatively late in the project when it became clear that the design of the new courts complex would include removal of the sidewalk and possible disturbance of the ground below it. Because we had found one intact grave feature just a foot or so north of the sidewalk, we decided to explore below the sidewalk itself to ensure that we had documented and removed any cemetery features potentially affected by the building project. Our exploratory excavations in late December revealed, just below the sidewalk, traces of an adobe wall, in all likelihood a portion of the wall that once surrounded the military cemetery. This wall is best known to us from its appearance in a photograph of the cemetery taken by army doctor John Vance Lauderdale in 1870 (see the Historic Photos sections of this web site). Earlier in the project, we had looked hard for remains of the wall whenever we were excavating in its presumed vicinity, but until now we had not found any definite trace of it. What survives is a roughly east-west alignment of crumbling adobe perhaps an inch deep, a foot wide, and 10 feet in length, probably representing a layer of adobe mortar laid on the original ground surface in preparation for the first course of adobe blocks. During January, we will be doing more excavation in the area of this find in order to study the nature and precise alignment of this interesting feature.

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