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November 2007

November was the thirteenth month of fieldwork for the Joint Courts Archaeological Project. As anticipated, the graves of the former National Cemetery continued to be the main focus of our attention for the month. We made steady progress in the excavation of previously identified graves, and the number of discovered graves increased slightly as we exposed small areas once inaccessible because of utility issues. At the end of November, the total number of discovered graves stood at 1,034. Of that number, we had fully excavated 836. We now anticipate that by the end of fieldwork (March 2008) the total number of discovered and fully excavated graves will be around 1,100.

The work in November was, for the most part, a continuation of three tasks undertaken in October: (1) mechanical stripping of the previously unexplored areas outside the presumed limits of the former cemetery; (2) excavation of previously discovered privy features; and (3) excavation of graves in Council Street, where earlier this year we discovered the very dense concentration of graves discussed in previous monthly reports.

Our stripping of areas outside the former cemetery was concentrated in the northwest portion of the project area, just east of Stone Avenue and south of Toole Avenue. A portion of this area had most recently served as the parking lot for the former Coconuts nightclub and was covered in asphalt; another portion was under the nightclub itself. Although the nightclub was demolished shortly before we began fieldwork last year, the concrete slab foundation had been left in place with the intention of carefully removing it a section at a time during our search for cemetery-related and other features. As it turns out, both the asphalt and the concrete slab concealed additional layers of concrete related to a series of improvements to the Baum and Adamson tire store, which stood in this area from ca. 1930 into the 1970s. We knew that the former nightclub occupied the converted Baum and Adamson store, but we did not realize how many concrete features would be found beneath the nightclub floor and parking lot. These features, which included floors, footers, support piers, automobile hoists, and a large drainage sump, required an unanticipated investment in demolition services and delayed the archaeological study of the underlying ground. The original construction of these features also badly disturbed most of the earlier historic features we expected to find in this area, notably the foundations of the houses and associated outbuildings that once stood there.

We did find one privy pit in our stripping of the northwest corner of the project area, apparently associated with the house at 286 North Stone, where Fred and Amelia Steward lived from ca. 1900 into the 1920s. Fred Steward became a prominent banker in Tucson; Amelia was the daughter of John and Dolores Brown, who lived next door at 270 North Stone. The remains of the Browns’ house were found early in the project and are discussed in earlier progress reports. Excavation of the Steward privy pit is now underway, and it looks to be another deep, artifact-laden feature of potentially great archaeological value.

In addition to the Steward privy, we are also excavating a privy found at the northeast corner of the lot where the building at 240 North Stone stood until it was demolished earlier this year. This privy, which is yet another deep, artifact-laden feature, was probably associated with the house that stood on the same location (but with 250 North Stone as its address) from ca. 1900 until the late 1920s. The earliest known resident of this house was Joseph Corbett, a railroad engineer, but the house changed hands several times over the years, which means it will be difficult to associate the artifacts found in the privy pit with a particular household. A smaller trash pit found near the privy pit and associated with the same house has also yielded some interesting artifacts, including the nearly complete remains of a four-wheeled pedal-powered cycle, similar to cycles offered for sale in retail catalogs from the turn of the century.

Our resumption of excavations in Council Street has confirmed that the complicated, densely packed arrangement of graves seen earlier this year under the western portion of the street continues to the east. Based on the pattern of grave outlines observed in mechanical stripping, we are confident that the overall east-west dimension of this unique area is no greater than 100 feet, but even with only half of the area left to excavate we will probably be working in this challenging area for several more weeks. Once the area is completely excavated, we will have only small portions of the overall extent of the cemetery left to excavate, including the remainder of Council Street (from the limit of the dense area east to Grossetta Avenue), most of the alley that connects Council and Alameda Streets, and the sidewalk along the north side of Alameda Street.