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September 2007

September came to a close with a welcome break in the summer’s heat, and an end to the threat of summer thunderstorms. The Joint Courts Archaeological Project maintained a steady pace of excavation throughout the long, hot summer and occasionally heavy rains, and we are on track to meet our short-term goal of excavating 750 burials by October 26. We have now been in the field 11 months and have identified a total of 1,006 graves in the project area. We still anticipate finding somewhat more than 1,100 graves before the end of the project. Our fieldwork, including excavation of all the graves and other historic features in the project area, is now expected to end on March 14, 2008.

During September, our excavations focused on two areas within the limits of the former National Cemetery. First, we continued to excavate graves within the area that was, until recently, under the building that stood at 240 North Stone Avenue. As expected, most of the graves in this area (a total of more than 250) were essentially undisturbed either by the 1929 construction of that building or by the 1890s house that preceded it. Second, we continued excavations immediately adjacent to Stone Avenue, within the area of the Stone Avenue sidewalk. By the end of the month, we had excavated all of this area and were ready to backfill to allow repaving of the sidewalk. We found a total of 32 graves either wholly or partially under the Stone Avenue sidewalk, none of which could have been adequately excavated without closing and removing the sidewalk. Curiously, almost all of these graves were found north of the south edge of Council Street, with just one grave found immediately south of Council. Part of the sidewalk area south of Council was disturbed by the 1953 excavation for the basement of the former Tucson Newspapers building, but much of it was not, so it is something of a surprise that no other graves were found there. We are not yet sure what to make of this discovery, but it will be important to consider as we try to reconstruct the former limits of the National Cemetery, both its civilian and military portions.

The graves found under the Stone Avenue sidewalk included several located immediately adjacent to the east edge of Stone Avenue. We did not find any graves extending any farther under Stone. We think this could be the western boundary for the cemetery, but it is conceivable that other burials associated with the National Cemetery may still be present under Stone Avenue, beyond the limits of our project area.

During September, our intensive focus on the excavation of graves meant we needed to set aside the excavation of other historic features, notably the deep privy pits associated with early residences in the project area. With the urgency of the Stone Avenue sidewalk work behind us, we will once again assign crew members to the privy excavations. In the coming month, we will also return to excavations in Council Street, where much of the high-density portion of the civilian cemetery, discovered earlier this year, still awaits excavation.