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May 2007

During May 2007, Statistical Research, Inc. (SRI) continued to make steady progress in its archaeological investigation of the Joint Courts Complex (JCC) project area. The focus of work for the month was once again the civilian portion of the National Cemetery, where we have continued to discover and excavate the many graves left in place when the cemetery closed in 1875. During May, the total number of graves discovered in the project area increased from 359 to 496, for a month’s total of 137 newly discovered graves. This is the largest monthly increase we have seen since the project began six months ago and reflects our work in areas that probably once fell in the oldest and most heavily used portion of the civilian cemetery. We continued to excavate in the former parking lot located just north of Council Street and just east of the building at 240 North Stone, and we began excavations directly within Council Street immediately east of Stone Avenue. Both areas have shown a significantly higher density of graves than we have found in any other part of the project area, which supports our early hunch that the area below 240 North Stone is also of high density.

The building at 240 North Stone, originally erected as two separate buildings around 1929, was demolished during May, with the exception of the concrete slab on which it stood. The careful removal of the slab itself has begun, and we hope to begin excavation below the slab in early June. With areas of high grave density to its south and east, it is curious that immediately north of the building we have found only a limited number of graves, distributed mostly in small clusters. This might seem to suggest that the density of graves under the building gradually diminishes with distance from Council Street, but just east of the building we found a sharp break between the old parking lot, where grave density is high, and the area immediately to the north, which completely lacks graves. Apparently, the property line marked by the north edge of 240 North Stone and the parking lot—a line first established by a city surveyor in 1889 and still in use until just recently—corresponded with a boundary observed during the period the cemetery was open. Our historical research did not find any documentary evidence of such a boundary, but we hope that its significance becomes apparent as we excavate below the 240 North Stone slab.

The graves discovered and excavated in May have not varied in character from the general pattern observed in earlier months, apart from their generally higher density. All of the graves were placed with their long axis oriented east-west, with one exception: a single grave has now been found with a north-south orientation, though it lacked any other distinguishing characteristic. The depths of the grave pits continue to vary widely, from only a foot or so below the modern pavement to as deep as 5 feet. Most of the graves are found in fairly regular north-south rows, with occasional irregularities in spacing that suggest deliberate clusters of graves. Artifacts found in the graves are limited in number and variety, in large part a reflection of the economic circumstances of pre-railroad Tucson, where commercially manufactured goods were expensive because everything had to be brought by wagon over long distances. In most graves we find traces of wood from simple coffins, but we rarely find coffin hardware other than badly rusted coffin nails. Personal items preserved in the graves are generally limited to the buttons of the clothing worn by the deceased.

In addition to grave excavation, we have also continued to discover and excavate post-cemetery features associated with the early residential and later commercial development of the project area. The excavation of deep privy pits found in the southern and central portions of the project area continued, with two pits now exceeding 10 feet in depth. The excavation of these two features has halted temporarily until we have an opportunity to mechanically excavate a large area around each pit to comply with OSHA excavation safety standards, which limit the height of unshored excavation walls. We have also discovered what is probably another privy pit in the northern portion of the project area, in the former backyard of John and Dolores Brown, whose house foundations, dating to 1890, we excavated earlier this year. The excavation of this pit and other recently discovered residential features will take place in the coming months.