JUNE 10, 2015

Archaeology Center’s dream realized

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grey fox pit houseTypical early single-family pit house

CAMP VERDE – In 2009, the Arizona Archaeological Society Verde Valley Chapter invited archaeologist Stewart Deats of EnviroSystems Management to talk about a recent excavation in Cottonwood.  During the late summer and fall of 2008 EnviroSystems, a cultural resource and biological consulting firm in Flagstaff, had been contracted by the developer to investigate the Grey Fox Ridge development area along the Verde River. The archaeological investigations of Grey Fox Ridge revealed a complex occupational history of what was primarily a Southern Sinagua pit house farmstead or small hamlet.  A total of over 11,000 artifacts from the site were slated to eventually be curated at the Sharlot Hall Museum in Prescott.

The removal of these Verde Valley artifacts from the area was just the latest in over 100 years of recovery and removal of items from the Sedona/Verde Valley area. From 1884 to 1888, the former surgeon at Fort Verde documented every major pueblo within a 50-mile radius of the fort. He was also the first to excavate several of the sites, including Montezuma Castle and Clear Creek Ruin.  But Mearns also began a practice that has seen most of the valley's treasures carted off to someplace else. "Virtually every major artifact collection from the Sedona/Verde Valley is some place other than the Verde Valley," says Jim Graceffa, president of the Verde Valley Archaeology Center.  According to Graceffa, it was Stewart Deats’ talk together with the historical drain of artifacts that were the primary reasons that the Verde Valley Archaeology Center was created in 2010.

It took EnviroSystems three years to complete the multi-year archaeological investigation of the Grey Fox Ridge. The site, located at the northwest outskirts of Cottonwood, was mitigated in accordance with federal and state laws in advance of constructing the planned housing subdivision. The site lies on a bench above the Verde River floodplain and overlooks the river to the north and east. Tuzigoot National Monument is visible about a mile to the north on the opposite side of the river. Over the next three years the recovered artifacts and samples were analyzed and the resulting information was combined with excavation data. Finally, a comprehensive report of over 400 pages was written detailing the excavations, analyses, research, and findings.

grey fox ceramic(Photo, right) This Deadmans Black-on-Red canteen (A.D. 800-1000) was a trade item from the northern Colorado plateau area. The decoration, which generally consisted of coarse lines, wide bands and triangles, was often polished over before firing, blurring it slightly.

Among the research findings was that the site was first inhabited during the Late Archaic period circa the A.D. 200s and, after a long hiatus, was repeatedly occupied from the A.D. 500s to 1200s.  The population probably did not exceed more than two or three households at any given time, and during many periods only one pit house was in use. Most, if not all, of the occupations were permanent habitations, but the duration of these occupations were perhaps measured in years rather than decades. Maize pollen showed that the site inhabitants practiced agriculture, but generally there was a dearth of domesticated crop remains. This, combined with the plethora of wild floral and faunal remains, indicated the site inhabitants primarily lived off the diverse ecological zones that were within easy reach of the site. This included the plants, animals, and other resources of the Verde River, the surrounding lush river bottom land, the adjacent desert uplands, and nearby Mingus Mountain. A variety of artifacts provided evidence of trade with neighboring cultures and regions including obsidian, turquoise jewelry, slate palettes and marine shell jewelry. Specimens of malachite, chrysocolla, and azurite were recovered from the site. These were probably obtained directly by the site inhabitants from sources near present-day Jerome and might have been exchanged for nonlocal goods. These and other research results helped place Grey Fox Ridge within the larger context of prehistoric occupation of the middle Verde Valley.

Excavations led to the discovery and study of 21 sets of human remains (14 inhumations and 7 cremations), 18 pit structures, and 30 other types of features. A total of 11,079 artifacts were recovered. Additional sampling included collection of flotation, macrobotanical, pollen, dendrochronological (tree-ring) samples, and charcoal for radiocarbon dating. After being analyzed, all of the human remains and directly associated materials were reburied in an area with a permanent non-disturbance easement. The rest of the collection, including all the data from the laboratory analyses, was being processed for curation at Sharlot Hall Museum when the Verde Valley Archaeology Center moved to its current location on Main Street in Camp Verde. 

Ken Zoll, the Center’s Executive Director, contacted EnviroSystems in 2012 to determine the status of the collection and to express interest in curating it in the Center’s building.  “Since this was the collection that convinced us of the need to establish a facility that could house locally discovered artifacts, we felt it was important to see if we could keep this local collection,” said Zoll.  EnviroSystems advised Zoll that if the Center were “qualified” to receive the collection when it was ready to be transferred, it might be possible for the Center to receive it.

In 2013, the Center received a grant from the National Institute for Conservation and the Institute of Museum and Library Services to conduct an assessment of its facilities, policies and practices in the conservation of artifacts and museum management.  Dr. Nancy Odegaard, lead conservator and head of the preservation division at Arizona State Museum (ASM) in Tucson, was contracted to conduct this assessment. Dr. Odegaard, together with a team from ASM, conducted the assessment in mid-2014.  The final report of the assessment concludes that the Center “is well qualified to be an archaeological collections repository for Federal, State, Town or private collections in Arizona." 

Armed with this assessment, EnviroSystems was again contacted with the hope of getting the Grey Fox Ridge collection.  They were sympathetic to the request but since an agreement was already in place with Sharlot Hall Museum to receive the collection, Sharlot Hall would have to agree to the change.  In just a few days of being contacted, Sharlot Hall agreed since the collection was not from their mission area and they stated that they believe that collections should be retained locally.  On May 26, Stewart Deats delivered thirteen archival boxes of artifacts and one box of reports and field notes to the Center. The collection is now being evaluated by Center staff to develop an eventual exhibit.

“This is a rather emotional moment for many of us who have struggled to get the Center established and recognized as a qualified institution,” said Zoll.  “This is the collection that started it all and now it is ‘home’.”

The Verde Valley Archaeology Center is located at 385 S. Main Street in Camp Verde.  Additional information is available on the Center’s website at www.vvarchcenter.org or by calling 928-567-0066.

(Below) Shell bracelets: (a) and (b) opposing parrot with stylized wing and feather band design; (c) and (d) bighorn sheep head and stylized snake band design.

grey fox shell bracelets