Desert Archaeology at the SAA meeting

Desert Archaeology Participation in the 2017 SAA Meeting

Sarah Herr details what Desert Archaeology will be up to at the SAA meeting this year.

Springtime means the SAAs are coming up again. An essential component of our mission is communicating the results of our research to our colleagues working in the Southwest and beyond, so every year we join archaeologists from across the Americas and the world to present papers and posters, and contribute to panel discussions, at the annual meetings of the Society for American Archaeology—the premier professional organization for archaeology in our corner of the world. As important as sharing our work is, these meetings are also a chance to learn about the research our colleagues in both the CRM and academic spheres are conducting, often months or years before it is published. We learn about innovations in field and documentation methods and about new interpretations, all of which help us assess and innovate when we return to the office. And, it’s not all work—archaeologists love to tell tall tales about the field, and we always find time to share the versions of our stories that have not been edited for length with students and colleagues when the presentations are over.

Five Desert Archaeology staff members are participating in the meetings, held this year in Vancouver. Here is a rundown of the sessions we are participating in, along with abstracts of the individual presentations that are based on our work in southern Arizona.



Session abstract: During the course of five decades, Paul Fish and Suzanne Fish have instigated and nurtured a series of innovative archaeological research and educational partnerships with their numerous colleagues and students in the Americas. These collaborations have established highly productive linkages among groups and individuals from a diverse range of institutions including universities, national and international government agencies, nonprofit research foundations, and other stakeholders. Consistent and crosscutting themes of their research collaborations include (but are not limited to) traditional agriculture and water management, social organization and craft economies, and coastal foraging adaptations. Mentoring students and engaging in community outreach are also central to the initiatives that Suzanne Fish and Paul Fish have developed and supported during their professional careers. These activities include numerous archaeological field schools as well as laboratory training programs at the Arizona State Museum and the School of Anthropology at the University of Arizona. Their former students are now practicing archaeology throughout the Americas and beyond. This session features presentations by a small sample of their many colleagues in the Greater Southwest, Mesoamerica, and South America.

DAI contribution: “Carrying On the Tradition: University of Arizona Field School Excavations at University Indian Ruin,” by Mark Elson (Desert Archaeology, Inc.) and Maren Hopkins (Anthropological Research, LLC).

Desert Archaeology work at University Indian Ruin is featured at the SAA meeting

Aerial view of a room at University Indian Ruin (photo by Henry Wallace).

Abstract: Recent field school excavations at University Indian Ruin, under the direction of Drs. Paul and Suzanne Fish, have uncovered a wealth of new data. University Indian Ruin is a large Classic period Hohokam village situated in the eastern Tucson Basin. The site likely contains hundreds of adobe rooms and at least two platform mounds, a form of monumental architecture built by or for elites. In the late 1930s, such archaeological luminaries as Byron Cummings and Emil Haury investigated the site and trained archaeology students. The most intensive investigations occurred in 1940, when Julian Hayden and a crew of CCC workers excavated a room-block and the primary platform mound. After a hiatus of 70 years, the Fishes, joined by field school students and members of the local CRM community, reinvestigated the site for four field seasons between 2010 and 2013. This work resulted in intensive mapping and surface collection of the site, the testing of a second platform mound and a large borrow pit, and the excavation of several rooms, two of which were in the platform mound precinct and contained evidence for ritual closure. This paper summarizes our work and presents new data on the occupation of this highly important site.

*General Session [106]• USING ETHNOGRAPHIC AND ETHNOHISTORIC SOURCES IN ARCHAEOLOGY | East Meeting Room 3, Vancouver Convention Centre | 3:45-5:00 pm

Desert Archaeology work with Yavapai-Apache elders is featured at the SAA meeting

Sarah Herr talking with Vincent Randall and the Yavapai-Apache National cultural advisors last year (photo by Maren Hopkins).

DAI contribution: “Pragmatism and Power: Considerations of Western Apache Reuse of Archaeological Sites” by Sarah Herr.

Abstract: Western Apache and archaeologists have often commented that Apache avoid archaeological sites for all but ceremonial purposes. Yet, the distribution of Western Apache site components in central Arizona shows that until the late nineteenth-century Western Apache often reused earlier sites as residences and for resources. Elders from the Yavapai-Apache Nation and the White Mountain Apache Tribe interpret these patterns as expressions of their ancestors’ pragmatism and their changing power in the face of American colonialism.


*Forum [148] ARCHAEOLOGICAL VOLCANOLOGY | East Meeting Room 20, Vancouver Convention Centre | 8:00 am-10:00 am

Desert Archaeology work with volcanism is featured at the SAA meeting

Corn cob dropped into a lava flow by Mark Elson in an attempt to replicate corn impressions found in volcanic stone on a site near Sunset Crater, Arizona.

Forum abstract: This forum seeks to define the short- and long-term, near- and far-ranging effects of volcanic eruptions on human society throughout history worldwide. Archaeological techniques of data recovery will be considered together with geoscience analyses and sociologically oriented research methodologies. Forum participants circulate papers prior to the SAA meetings; the seminal points in those papers will be presented as discussion points for the forum. The outcome in the first instance is envisioned as a position paper distinguishing this line of research from other disaster archaeologies, noting where analytical techniques differ (e.g., tephrochronology and the use of isochrons) and where shared theories and methodologies are useful. Participants work in various areas of the world where volcanoes have visited extensive damage on populations, but particular attention is also given to far-field consequences. Localized cultural reactions will be examined for “best practice” and avenues will be sought to reach out to both disaster risk reduction research as well as volcanology, and not least to disseminate these insights to policy makers.

DAI contribution: Mark Elson brings his experience with volcanology and archaeology to bear as a discussant.

*Forum [206] • HERITAGE MATTERS: ARCHAEOLOGY AND COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT THROUGH POLITICAL ADVOCACY | East Meeting Room 20, Vancouver Convention Centre | Friday, March 31, 1:00 pm – 3:00 pm

Desert Archaeology vice president Bill Doelle will participate in the 2017 SAA meeting

Bill Doelle.

Forum abstract: An alarming trend of attacks against publicly funded archaeology, archaeology programs and institutions, and archaeological and cultural heritage sites continues to impact the historic preservation profession. Archaeologists from across the country are responding to these attacks through active involvement with their local communities, legislative sessions, lobbying, and other advocacy campaigns to increase public awareness about the value and importance of archaeological and cultural resources. These forms of advocacy vary among archaeologists and regions and are impacted by the needs and wants of the local community and potential constraints in the professional workplace. A panel of archaeologists who have been participating in diverse advocacy initiatives will share successes, challenges, and lessons learned based on their experiences as government employees, private sector employees, private citizens, and members of professional and avocational organizations and nonprofits, followed by an open discussion.

DAI contribution: Bill Doelle, wearing his Archaeology Southwest hat, will be a discussant in the forum.


DAI contribution: sitting on pins and needles hoping to hear that DAI staff win an award. Come cheer us on.


*Symposium [335] • WALLS, MOUNDS, AND POTS: EXAMINING THE CLASSIC PERIOD HOHOKAM | East Ballroom A, Vancouver Convention Centre | 1:00-4:45 pm

Session abstract: The Hohokam Classic Period is characterized as a time of change, social differentiation, and possible stratification. The ubiquitous use of towering compound wall, standardized platform mounds, and the widespread adoption of a new kind of pottery, Salado Polychrome, are some of the indicators that a new ideology had spread across the Hohokam region. Archaeological literature has shown that the Phoenix Basin, Tonto Basin, Tucson Basin, and other parts of the Hohokam world were a part of this shared ideology, but differed in how the ideology manifested. The goal of this session is to highlight recent work focused on the Classic Period. Paper topics in this session include ceremonialism and ideology, social and sociopolitical organization, social interaction, exchange, architecture and monumentality, and agriculture and subsistence. These papers, detailing aspects of the Classic Period in different parts of the Hohokam region, will provide a large-scale summary of current Classic Period research.

DAI contribution: “Ancestral Ties during a Period of Social Upheaval: An Example from the Early Classic Period in the Tucson Basin,” by Michael Lindeman and Henry Wallace.

Desert Archaeology work at AA:12:46 is featured at the 2017 SAA meeting

A Classic period house at AA:12:46.

Abstract: The transition to the early Classic Period (ca. AD 1100–1300) in the Tucson Basin has its roots in the disintegration of long-lived Preclassic Period (ca. AD 500–1100) villages in the eleventh century. The break-up of these villages engendered a variety of responses among the constituent social groups including the use of ancestral ties to place, real or constructed, to stake claims to land. Early Classic period settlement at the site of AA:12:46 begins during the fluid period immediately following the breakup of the Preclassic villages. During the twelfth century a corporate group made up of three households settled at the site. The choice of location was not random with the households building within the confines of a plaza of a short-lived village abandoned 400 years before. The new inhabitants made an overt display of their connection to ancestors and place. We suggest that this was important amid the social tensions of the twelfth century to establish rights to the adjacent floodplain farmlands and the water needed to irrigate their crops. While AA:12:46 is a good example of this process in the Hohokam region, other instances of Classic Period construction in Preclassic plazas are considered here.

*CRM EXPO | East Exhibit Hall B, Vancouver Convention Centre | 1:00 pm–4:00 pm

DAI contribution: we will have a table set up with displays highlighting recent work, and staffers who are ready to converse with attendees.

We look forward to the opportunity to share our work, learn new things, and reconnect with colleagues. See you in Vancouver!

Visit the Society for American Archaeology homepage for Annual Meeting programs and abstracts.