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Anthropological Papers at the University of Arizona

Paper #70
The Safford Valley Grids: Prehistoric Cultivation in the Southern Arizona Desert

Author(s): William E. Doolittle and James A. Neely, Editors*
Publisher: Anthropological Papers of the University of Arizona 70, 2004, $16.95
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Crisscrossing Pleistocene terrace tops and overlooking the Gila River in southeastern Arizona are acres and acres of rock alignments that have perplexed archaeologists for a century. Well known but poorly understood, these features have long been considered agricultural, but exactly what was cultivated, how, and why remained a mystery. Now we know. Drawing on the talents of a team of scholars representing various disciplines, including geology, soil science, remote sensing, geographical information sciences (GISc), hydrology, botany, palynology, and archaeology, the editors of this volume explain when and why the grids were built.

Between A.D. 750 and 1385, people gathered rocks from the tops of the terraces and rearranged them in grids of various sizes and shapes, averaging about 4 meters to 5 meters square. The grids captured rainfall and water accumulated under the rocks forming the grids. Agave was planted among the rocks, providing a dietary supplement to the maize and beans that were irrigated on the nearby bottom land, a survival crop when the staple crops failed and possibly a trade commodity when yields were high. Stunning photographs by Adriel Heisey convey the vastness of the grids across the landscape.

*William E. Doolittle is the Erich W. Zimmermann Regents Professor in Geography and the Chairman of the Department of Geography and the Environment at The University of Texas at Austin.

*James A. Neely is Professor Emeritus of Anthropology at The University of Texas at Austin.

Contributors: Karen R. Adams, Paul R. Fish, Suzanne K. Fish, Jeffrey A. Homburg, Brenda B. Houser, Betty Graham Lee, Dale R. Lightfoot, Arthur MacWilliams, Guadalupe Sánchez de Carpenter, Jonathan A. Sandor, Marilyn Shoberg.

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