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Rock Art Ranch 2014 Research Progress Report

The University of Arizona School of Anthropology and Arizona State Museum completed its fourth year of fieldwork at Rock Art Ranch. The field school, led by Dr. E. Charles (Chuck) Adams, is open to undergraduate and graduate students at all skill levels. During the five week field program, participants will learn archaeological survey, excavation, and lab techniques. For survey, participants will learn site identification, location and mapping using GPS; artifact identification, collection and processing; soil and plant identification; and artifact analysis and sourcing. For excavation, the participants will learn mapping using the total station, feature identification, the principles of stratigraphy and their application to the archaeological record, seriation techniques, artifact identification and typology, and basic laboratory procedures. In the lab students will have the chance to complete preliminary analyses of artifacts recovered from the field..Students will use these skills to complete research projects for their final grades.

In 2013 Dr. Adams received a National Science Foundation grant (1262184) to establish a Research Enrichment for Undergraduates (REU) research site at Rock Art Ranch. From 2014 through 2016, ten students will be chosen from applications to participate in this program. In addition to the field program described above, students will return to ASM for two weeks for workshops on bioarchaeology, zooarchaeology, and conservation science.
Rock Art Ranch is located 25 miles south and east of Winslow and Homol’ovi State Park, where Adams and Lange conducted research from 1984-2006. The ranch is named after a famous petroglyph site in Chevelon Canyon which borders the west side of the ranch. We felt that this new area might help provide additional context on the period preceding the late pueblo period (1260 to 1400 CE) at Homol’ovi.

During its four years of operation, the field school has excavated in three sites. At one we uncovered two rooms and an extensive outside work area dating 1230-1250 CE, based on radiocarbon dates, and a pit house and storage pit dating to before the appearance of pottery or before 500 CE. At the second site 100m from the first we uncovered a possible kiva (ceremonial structure). We also tested burned surface features at two pre-ceramic sites that were radiocarbon dated to 100 BCE and 500 CE. During 2013-2014 the fieldschool excavated and mapped the Multi-Kiva (MK) site located south of the ranch. It is estimated to date about 1200 CE. MK has up to 20 rooms and is two stories in places.

Map of Multi-Kiva site (AZ P:3:112)

The field school has also surveyed 2382 acres (3.72 sq mi) of the Rock Art Ranch property and another 640 acres in the section surrounding MK. All told 138 sites and loci have been recorded, 110 on the ranch and 28 on the MK section. Sites on the MK section are mostly contemporary with MK, although 3-4 date 600-850 CE. On the ranch sites are concentrated within 200 meters of the two shallow canyons that dissect it. Preliminary analysis of the micro-environment of Chimney and Bell canyons indicate water is trapped as shallow as 1.5 m (5 ft) beneath sand dunes that fill it and would be accessible through simple wells. In addition cottonwood, hackberry, black walnut, and willow in the canyons provide much needed building and firewood materials.

Boundaries of area surveyed on Rock Art Ranch 2011-2014

Bell Cow Canyon sites, which are nearest the large petroglyph panels, are mostly pre-ceramic. These have extensive scatters of fine bifacial thinning flakes and whole or fragmentary flat or shallow basin metates. Tools are also abundant including scrapers, bifaces, drills and projectile points. The points suggest groups were hunting, gathering and living in the area during late Paleoindian (8000–6000 BCE), Middle Archaic (4000–1500 BCE) and early Basketmaker (800 BCE–500 CE) periods. The abundance and variety of grasses and other gatherable plants plus fall game suggest frequent, short-term use of the area. When corn was introduced about 1000 BCE, site size and density seems to increase with canyon bottoms likely used for garden farming.  

Metates from Rock Art Ranch. Photo by Chuck Adams.

Sites along Chimney Canyon are more diverse with those where the canyon is small and narrow quite similar to those along Bell Cow. However, when the canyon opens up on the north end of the ranch and onto adjacent Aztec Land and Cattle Company land, numerous small pueblos dating 1200-1250 appear. The area is amenable to floodwater farming and more extensive and intensive farming practices, which would be required of farming-dependent pueblo groups. Many other sites without architecture in upland areas near the pueblos are likely additional farming areas.

Looking up Chimney Canyon. Photo by Rich Lange.

Our impression is that the study area has been lightly used or occupied almost continuously for the past 10-13,000 years, but only intensively used and occupied for about 50 years from 1200-1250 CE. Plain ware ceramics and architectural style of the pueblos suggest the groups settling these pueblos migrated from the Mogollon Rim region to the south or east. Decorated pottery exchanged to these pueblos was with groups to the north in the Hopi Buttes and to the east in Silver Creek and other drainages into the Little Colorado River. Creswell Pueblo near Homol’ovi III is quite similar to these pueblos suggesting not only exchange into this region but a possibility descendents of these pueblos populated the Homol’ovi pueblos of the late 1200s.

Pre-ceramic groups show these connections and boundaries through lithic assemblages—lots of petrified wood and no virtually no obsidian, suggesting connections to the east Projectile point styles are also strongly associated with traditions to the east and south and less so to the north.

Jeddito Yellow Ware, produced in Hopi Mesa villages and so common in the Homol’ovi pueblos, is nearly absent on the ranch. It is most common on top of pre-ceramic sites on Bell Cow Canyon and sometimes includes obsidian. The yellow ware dates 1330 to perhaps as late as 1700 suggesting Chevelon Canyon was a continued place of importance to Hopi people long after the Homol’ovi pueblos were depopulated.

Support for the Rock Art Ranch fieldschool in 2014 was provided by the National Science Foundation, Grant 1262184.