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August 2007

The end of August marked the end of 10 months of fieldwork for the Joint Courts Archaeological Project. During our tenth month, our focus shifted away from the delineation of the former limits of the National Cemetery, which we had largely accomplished by the end of July, and onto the intensive excavation of previously discovered graves. Our exploratory excavations in August were limited to selected areas of the former cemetery that we had left unexplored due to underground utility concerns or other accessibility issues. A few small areas of the cemetery within our overall project boundary remain unexplored, but it is unlikely that any surprises await us in those areas. We now expect the total number of individual burials in the project area to be somewhat greater than 1,100. By the end of August, we had identified 965 graves in the project area; we have now fully excavated 551 individual burials.

August brought us a minor surprise that slightly increased our scope of work and also provided a useful addition to our understanding of the history of the cemetery. Early in the month, we learned that Chicanos Por La Causa (CPLC), the nonprofit organization that owns and occupies the former bank building at 200 North Stone Avenue, was upgrading the electrical service to its building to accommodate a new HVAC system. The upgraded electrical service will require an external transformer that CPLC plans to install in the parking lot immediately north of the building. Pima County has been in regular contact with CPLC since the start of the Joint Courts project because of the proximity of the CPLC building to the project area, and both the county and CPLC have long been aware that much of the CPLC parking lot falls directly within the limits of the military portion of the National Cemetery. Thus, when CPLC determined that it would need to disturb part of its parking lot in order to install the transformer, they consulted with the county about the potential impact to archaeological features. The county was already in discussions with CPLC about temporarily closing the alley on the east side of its building to allow us to excavate that portion of the cemetery (the alley will be used as a utility corridor for the future Joint Courts Complex). As part of the agreement that would give us access to the alley, and allow us to fully excavate any burials that lie partially on CPLC property and partly on county property, the county consented to include the footprint of the proposed CPLC transformer in the archaeological scope of work. Thus, the county will have the access it needs to conduct required archaeological excavations, and CPLC is assured that installation of its new transformer won’t impact the part of the cemetery under its parking lot.

The portion of the CPLC parking lot that we explored archaeologically consisted of a small rectangular area measuring about 20 by 50 feet, which included both the proposed footprint of the transformer pad and the path of the buried cables that will connect the transformer to an existing electrical vault in the alley. In this small window, we discovered four grave pits. Two were located in the parking lot proper and two were in the adjacent portion of the alley. The two graves in the alley confirmed that a partial fourth row of military graves extends north up the alley from Alameda Street. We had previously identified the three easternmost rows of military graves in our excavations immediately east of the alley, within our original project area boundary. Based on documentary sources, we suspected that a partial fourth row was also present, but we had not had the opportunity to explore the alley in the immediate vicinity of the CPLC building. Our recent work in the alley just north of the CPLC parking lot indicated that the fourth row, if it was present at all, did not extend north into our original project area. Like most of the graves we have excavated in the military cemetery’s three easternmost rows, the burials in these two graves were previously exhumed, presumably as part of the U.S. Army’s effort in 1884 to move all of the soldiers buried in the cemetery to a new cemetery at Fort Lowell, 7 miles east of downtown.

Of the two graves in the CPLC parking lot, one had been previously exhumed and one was still intact. We do not know when the first burial was exhumed, but it was clearly prior to the initial development of the cemetery as a residential area in the 1890s. We also do not yet know whether these two burials were of soldiers or civilians; the archaeological evidence in this regard is inconclusive. We do know that the military cemetery was occasionally used for civilian burials (usually because the deceased had some connection with the army), but we do not know how the civilian burials were distributed in the cemetery.

Thanks to the removal of an electrical line that served a nearby traffic signal, we were finally able to remove the sidewalk along Stone Avenue south of Council Street. Our search for archaeological features in this area showed that much of it had been badly disturbed as part of the basement excavation for the former Tucson Newspapers building. Photographs of the ongoing excavation in 1953 had suggested to us that the basement excavation extended only to the east edge of the Stone Avenue sidewalk, but our mechanical stripping has revealed that the final limit of the 1953 basement excavation came within 3 or 4 feet of the curb. On the other hand, the southern half of the basement excavation, which corresponds to the original 1940 portion of the Tucson Newspapers building, did not extend quite so far west, leaving a more substantial undisturbed strip under the sidewalk. We have not yet found any grave pits under the sidewalk south of Council Street, but we have found another prehistoric pit house, the second in the project area. Like the pit house found earlier in the central portion of the project area, this one is well preserved and probably associated with the Cienega phase of the Late Archaic period (ca. 800 BC–AD 200). Only half of the pit house falls within the project area; the other half extends under Stone Avenue, just a few inches below the modern pavement.

Also in August, we were allowed to remove a small section of the concrete that covers the deeply buried electrical lines still in place along the south edge of Council Street. The lines will be removed later this year, but we were eager to know the extent of disturbance along this corridor, since it will be an important factor in our estimate of the total number of graves in the project area. We discovered that the trench for the electrical lines is about 4 feet wide and perhaps 10 feet deep, or a little less than half the width of the concrete cap that runs along Council Street. Much of the remainder of this corridor is also disturbed by deep excavation for the Tucson Newspapers building. This means that the number of intact graves likely to be found under the concrete cap, which runs the full block of Council Street from Stone to Grossetta Avenue, will be less than we had anticipated.

One other discovery in August is worth noting. Among the features found under the Stone Avenue sidewalk north of Council Street was an exceptionally deep grave pit. The depths of the grave pits found previously in the project area have varied greatly, but few had exceeded 5 feet, and the very deepest was still less than 6 feet deep. This grave pit was a full 8 feet in depth, which makes it a complete exception in the project area so far. It was so deep and relatively small that it must have been difficult for the original grave diggers to excavate, since there would have been very little room for a person to use a shovel. The grave did not have any other characteristics that would suggest why it was made so unusually deep.