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January 2007

During January 2007, Statistical Research, Inc. (SRI) continued its intensive archaeological study of the Joint Courts Complex (JCC) project area. The goals for the month were a continuation of the general goals set for the first three months of fieldwork: to establish the overall extent of the former National Cemetery through exploratory excavation, and to excavate graves and other archaeological features as they were discovered. More specifically, we hoped to have about 25 percent of the 4.2 acres of the overall project area completely excavated. We came very close to meeting that percentage goal and are still on schedule to complete fieldwork by November of this year.

As noted in earlier progress reports, the western and southern boundaries of the National Cemetery are known from documentary sources to have corresponded closely with Stone Avenue and Alameda Street, respectively, and this has been confirmed by the fieldwork to date. But the cemetery’s northern and eastern boundaries were known only approximately from documentary sources, and an important part of the first two months of fieldwork was our attempt to establish those boundaries more precisely. At the beginning of January, the results of our exploratory excavations suggested that the eastern boundary of the larger, civilian portion of the National Cemetery was no farther east than Grossetta Avenue. By the end of the month, the distribution of discovered features made it clear that the eastern boundary of the civilian cemetery fell about 40 feet west of Grossetta. No trace of the adobe wall that probably marked the eastern boundary of the civilian cemetery has yet been found, but a small, unexplored portion of the project area may still preserve remnants of the wall. Because the eastern boundary of the civilian cemetery fell well to the west of Grossetta Avenue, it now seems likely that the alignment of that street, first surveyed 15 years after the cemetery closed, did not follow an original cemetery boundary.

The northern boundary of the civilian cemetery has not been determined any more precisely than it was at the beginning of January. Based on the distribution of the graves discovered so far, it fell about 150 feet south of the modern intersection of Stone and Toole Avenues. This corresponds approximately with its location as previously inferred from an 1880 photograph of the area. Again, no trace of the adobe wall that marked the northern boundary of the civilian cemetery has been found. During the coming weeks, additional excavation in the presumed vicinity of the northern boundary may provide a better idea of where that boundary was and how it was marked.

The fieldwork in January also included excavation within and around the military cemetery that occupied the southwest corner of the larger National Cemetery. At the beginning of the month, we had defined the probable extent of the military cemetery within the project area, and we had identified and excavated 17 graves within it. No trace of the adobe wall that once enclosed the military cemetery had been found, but its approximate former location was easily inferred from the placement of graves. By the end of January, we had identified a total of 39 graves within the military cemetery and had managed to find small traces of adobe aligned with its eastern limit, possible remnants of the eastern wall. Given the minimal nature of this evidence it is impossible to be certain, but it appears likely that the military cemetery wall, erected by the U.S. Army in 1868, lacked a stone foundation and consisted of adobe bricks laid on the unmodified natural ground surface. This contrasts with what is known of the wall built around the larger civilian portion of the National Cemetery around 1870. That wall is described in contemporary accounts as having a substantial stone foundation. Our inability thus far to identify anything but the slightest trace of either wall strongly suggests that both walls were largely or entirely removed during the grading of the project area that took place in 1890, at the start of residential development.

Outside the military cemetery, the fieldwork in January continued the discovery and excavation of graves in the larger, civilian portion of the National Cemetery. By the end of the month, 157 graves had been discovered beyond the limits of the military cemetery, for a total of 196 graves discovered so far in the cemetery as a whole. Of the 196 discovered graves, 83 had been excavated by the end of January. The majority of the total number of discovered graves was found south of Council Street, where the largest contiguous area has been opened through exploratory excavation. This area, which is located immediately east of the former location of the Tucson Newspapers building, was near the center of the civilian cemetery and, not surprisingly, has a relatively high density of graves. We anticipate a similar density in the area immediately north of Council Street, including the ground under the building that still stands at 240 North Stone Avenue. That building will be razed in a few months to allow archaeological excavation below its footprint.

The archival research that preceded the archaeological fieldwork yielded very little information about the internal organization of the National Cemetery apart from the basic distinction between its military and civilian portions. Tucson’s Court Street Cemetery, which opened the same year that the National Cemetery closed (1875), is known to have had separate Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish sections, as well as sections reserved for the various fraternal orders represented in Tucson, such as the Masons. We suspect that some of the same distinctions were made in the layout of the National Cemetery, but no specific evidence for these distinctions was found in the archival research. And so far, no surface features such as headstones, other grave markers, or fence lines have been found in the excavations that might indicate other spatial distinctions in the National Cemetery. One aspect of the graves themselves may be indicative of how different parts of the cemetery were used for burial by people of different ethnicities or social backgrounds. Based on the graves excavated so far, two distinct areas can be identified: an area where the heads of the graves were placed to the west, and another area where the heads of the graves were placed to the east. In both areas, only a few exceptions to the general pattern have been found.

In addition to the graves associated with the National Cemetery, other post-cemetery archaeological features continue to be found in the project area. During January, several large trash features were found, each associated with a particular house that once stood in the project area. These trash features, which include at least three privy pits, are potentially valuable sources of information about daily life in the project area during the early years of residential development. A goal for the coming weeks is to fully excavate these features and begin studying the many artifacts they contain.