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Deciphering a NA Site

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  • Deciphering a NA Site

    I have been visiting a site in central Arizona in the foothills of a mountain range. It is located on top of a 200' hill - about 100' wide x 400' long at the top - adjacent to a deep bend in a currently dry wash. The top of this hill is completely littered with potsherds. I have found 2 metates (one mostly buried, the other mostly uncovered) and also a broken mano. The fact that potsherds are not only laying on top of the ground as if placed there recently, there is also plenty of buried pieces, suggesting long time habitation. On top of this hill is a number of chunks of float Schist rock, some pulverized and strewn about in small pieces.
    It looks obvious to me that much of the top of the hill has been cleared of rocks and there are indications of an ancient fire pit.
    There are no lithics present!
    The surrounding hills are completely rock covered, and except for 1 scraper I stumbled upon, are devoid of any signs of habitation.
    I'm somewhat baffled as to what this site was used for. My only theories are that being above the bend in the wash, which at one time probably had frequent water coursing thru it, made a great vantage point for hunting wildlife visiting the water source.
    But that doesn't explain the mano and metates and the lack of lithics on the hill.
    My other theory has to do with the schist rock. Were they using the metates to grind schist and then storing it in pots to add to clay when making pottery? I believe they may have used schist to temper the clay. The hole in that theory is that there are plenty of large schist outcroppings in the area, so I'm not sure why they would use the hill which only had a small number of large pieces laying around.
    I have not done any digging here as I don't feel comfortable destroying a NA site. The buried potsherds that were unearthed were done by animals (ground squirrels, coyotes) digging in the soil.
    This area would have been occupied by the Hohokam and later the Apache tribes.
    Can anyone give me insight on why this site was used?

    Winters in Arizona, summers in Michigan's UP. What could be better?

  • #2
    Firstly ArtiFacter - let me welcome you to our website. Glad your here and from this first post, I would say that you have a lot in common with our membership - Knowledge to share and curiosity about your finds. I can't speak to your questions about the site's usage but I'm quite sure someone on here will. I'm also impressed and commend you on not destroying a NA site. Often times these sites are ravaged to find artifact to sell. Thanks for posting and let's see what develops.
    Pickett/Fentress County, Tn - Any day on this side of the grass is a good day. -Chuck-

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    • #3
      Welcome!
      Sounds like an interesting site. Have you expanded out from there? Is it possible this area was an area primarily used for food processing or pottery making? Maybe other areas will turn up debitage and points. I have one sand ridge I walk here that is give or take 100 yards wide East to West by 300 yards long North to South. At the far South end where it starts to drop off, lots of flakes and debitage the rest of the are rare to find. My guess is the old ladies said "not in camp, we're tired of stepping on those flakes do it over there".
      Love Arizona, Have two sons in Tucson.
      Searching the fields of Northwest Indiana and Southwestern Michigan

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      • #4
        Welcome to the forum. The Apache were primarily nomadic, although they set up temporary camps during the growing season to plant corn, beans & squash. They rarely stayed long enough to tend their crops-- perhaps leaving a few old ones to guard the field or at times just letting it fend for itself.
        They also were well know for leaving food caches in pots throughout their range. They moved almost constantly as they predated on their neighbors. Hit & run, they often relied on food caches to sustain them in their flight. Perhaps these pots were part of a cache, which would be ample enough to feed an entire band. Just one thought..,
        Child of the tides

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        • #5
          Thank you all for the nice welcoming words. To begin, I feel a kinship with our Native American ancestors and would never feel comfortable bringing a shovel along and digging up the ground. To me, the fun is in using the clues provided to put the puzzle together. I do like collecting artifacts, but don't believe in desecrating a site just to add to my personal collection.
          gregszybala - yes, I have expanded out to the surrounding hills and have also searched the washes in between. Nothing. That's what baffles me. Such a small hill to be the only one inhabited. Unfortunately, in the early half of the last century, lots of prospecting went on in the area and some areas have been permanently changed, but I see no signs in the undamaged areas. Usually in the sites I hunt I find that there is a specific area within the site where there is a heavy accumulation of flakes, so I can tell where most of the knapping was done. This is the first site I've found that seems to be devoid of lithics.
          Havenhunter - Interesting insight. I did know about the nomadic nature of the Apache, but wasn't thinking in those terms. The bottomlands where the bend in the wash is contains a grove of mesquite trees, which was an important food source. It's possible this site was used specifically for gathering and grinding mesquite seed pods and nothing else. These mesquite groves have often yielded manos and metates for me.
          Winters in Arizona, summers in Michigan's UP. What could be better?

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          • #6
            Welcome from southwestern Ontario.

            Thanks for the great description of the site.

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            • #7
              Hi AF. Welcome to the forum. I can't provide any insight for you but I learned a lot from your post. You make excellent observations and explain them quite well.

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              • #8
                Nice post, enjoyed hearing your mystery! Could that hilltop surface have been picked clean of stone artifacts already? You did find a few items, tools used by women oftentimes, im drawn in to the mystery. Still pottery but that may be the last of what's been on the surface. I'll bet some collectors pass on the potsherds. Is there much wind up there? Is the wind exposing the potsherds and few tools you found? Who knows what lies below, could be a spot used for different reasons thru the different cultural periods.

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                • Arti Facter
                  Arti Facter commented
                  Editing a comment
                  Hello awassamog. I don't think this site has been picked clean, although I'm not foolish enough to think I'm the first to find this location I've visited other well known sites that have been surface hunted and also dug with shovels. There are always plenty of lithics present. As Havenhunter said, I now believe this site had a specific short term use that didn't include the need to manufacture stone tools other than Metates and Manos. As far as wind goes - seems like there is always wind blowing in the desert, but it's the monsoon season in late summer that does a good job of exposing new artifacts, at least in my experience.
                  I have no doubt there is plenty of cool finds below the surface, but I will leave that to the experts to discover one day.
                  I considered including pictures, but I have another known site that was a huge village with countless middens, burn pits and ancient rock dams that would make a nice show and tell on this forum. I'm working on getting that together.
                  Thanks for the thoughts. It always helps to get other members viewpoints and ideas.

              • #9
                Would love to see photos of this hilltop

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