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October 2007

We began excavations for the Joint Courts Archaeological Project on November 6, 2006, which means the end of October has marked the end of nearly a full year of fieldwork. From the beginning of the project, our primary focus has been the excavation of graves in the former National Cemetery, and we have settled into a routine that will likely continue with few changes until the anticipated end of fieldwork on March 14, 2008. By the end of October, we had identified 1,016 graves in the project area and had fully excavated 774 of them. We continue to anticipate that, by the end of fieldwork, we will have found and fully excavated somewhat more than 1,100 graves. This means that over the remaining four and half months, or about 18 working weeks, we need to excavate approximately 350 graves, along with a fair number of historical-period features that postdate the National Cemetery, including privy pits, trash pits, and assorted remnants of residential and commercial architecture.

It was a long time coming, but the reopening of the Stone Avenue sidewalk along the west side of the project area is finally about to happen. Once that sidewalk is reopened and our western project fence is reestablished along its earlier alignment, we will be closing the sidewalk along Alameda Street at the southern end of the project area. Construction of the Joint Courts Complex will involve disturbance and eventual replacement of that sidewalk, too, which prompted our concern that historic features might be affected. Our understanding of the limits of the former cemetery suggest that we will not find many graves here, but we did find a few graves just north of the sidewalk, within the current project area. Because none of the assumed boundaries of the cemetery is neatly defined, it is always possible that a grave or other significant feature associated with the cemetery may lie under the sidewalk.

At the same time that we close the Alameda sidewalk, we will also close the short section of alley that runs immediately east of the Chicanos Por La Causa building at 200 North Stone. This alley, which will also be impacted by construction of the Joint Courts Complex, holds part of the fourth row of graves in the former military section of the National Cemetery. Based on the results of our excavations in the other three rows earlier in the project, most of the burials in the fourth row were likely exhumed in 1884, after the U.S. Army was asked by the City of Tucson to stop using the cemetery. The graves have undoubtedly also been disturbed by the many utility lines placed in the alley over the intervening years. Despite these disturbances, it is important that we document and recover what remains of these features before the construction project begins.

The end of October saw us returning to three tasks that will occupy us for most of the rest of fieldwork. First, we have begun mechanical stripping of the previously unexplored areas outside the presumed limits of the former cemetery, areas we had mostly disregarded during our focus on determining the limits of the cemetery and the total number of graves. These areas, which lie north and east of the cemetery, hold a variety of architectural features from the commercial development of the project area that began in the 1920s, including extensive cement slabs, heavy concrete footers, and industrial features such as automobile hoists. As we remove the upper layers of commercial features (with the assistance of our demolition contractor), we occasionally find less substantial remnants of earlier residential architecture, including foundation fragments and construction debris.

Second, we are now returning to the excavation of previously discovered privy features in the project area, which we had put on hold as we devoted our equipment and crews to grave excavation. The area around two very deep, partially excavated privies in the southern portion of the project area is now being mechanically terraced to comply with OSHA excavation safety standards. Once the terracing is complete, we will assign crews to finish the documentation of these important features. The excavation of at least one other privy, found in the central portion of the project area, is also being resumed. And in our ongoing stripping of the areas outside the cemetery we may still discover other privies or other trash-filled features that will require excavation.

Third, we are just now returning to the excavation of graves in Council Street, where earlier this year we discovered the very dense concentration of graves mentioned in previous monthly reports. We excavated about half of the dense area before the monsoon season began, then decided that it was best to postpone further excavation until the threat of heavy rains was over. Now that we are back into the street, we are once again involved in a much more complicated kind of excavation than most of the rest of the cemetery has required, with crowded, overlapping graves and multiple, crosscutting utility trenches.