I don’t quite have it in me yet to do a research-intensive post but I can’t stand to be out for three days in a row, especially since you have all been so incredibly solicitous of my health. Thank you so much for your wonderfully supportive comments, good wishes, wise advice and even recipes.
Archaeologists excavating the site of a new highway to be built along Interstate 10 outside Tucson, Arizona, have discovered footprints left by a Native American farming community 2,500 to 3,000 years ago. The prints of men, women, children and dogs were left in the mud during a wet day. The mud dried into a solid crust and then a few days later a flash flood inundated the area with a layer of sandy silt that preserved the prints in perpetuity.
The prints are so extensive and clear that it’s possible to trace people’s movements during the course of the day. The imprints of irrigation ditches have also survived, and the business of the print groupings suggest the adults were working assiduously to manage the irrigation system during heavy rain or a rise in the nearby Santa Cruz River. They walked from one irrigation gate to another, building or flattening earthwork dams to direct the extra water to their maize plants. There are prints of an adult walking next to a child and marks left when the adult picked up the child before putting him or her back down. There are prints of adults walking to the irrigation canals while children and a dog follow them.
While far older footprints have been found in North America (ca. 13,000 years old), these are likely the oldest ever discovered north of Mexico in the Southwest, and they are the earliest evidence of formal farming in the US Southwest.
The ancient civilization that lived here represents what archaeologists call the early agricultural period, a time even before people in the region had developed ceramics.
“It’s a transition era from a lifestyle defined by hunter-gatherers to a settling down,” said Jerome Hesse, with SWCA Environmental Consultants.
Exactly how the people here lived their lives or organized their society is unknown, but Hesse said they likely lived at least part of the year at this and other sites in the region, cultivating crops in irrigated fields.
So far 4,300 square feet of the site have been exposed, and there’s likely more to be found, but time is not on archaeology’s side. The construction project will not be delayed or moved and it will destroy this unique discovery. In order to preserve what they can of this treasure, archaeologists have taken latex and epoxy molds of specific footprints, and the site is being documented virtually with high-resolution 3D models.
Here are a few of the models for you to explore. Keep an eye on the Southwest Archaeology blog for more to come.