Early Desert Farming and Irrigation Settlements, Archaeological Investigations in the Phoenix Sky Harbor Center, Volume 1: Testing Results and Data Recovery Plan

Editor(s): David H. Greenwald

Year: 1994


The Phoenix Sky Harbor Center Project evolved as a result of the planned development of an area slightly larger than 800 acres west of Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. This volume focuses on the testing phase of the project undertaken by the Community and Economic Development Department of the City of Phoenix in consultation with the Arizona State Historic Preservation Office. Historic records of the area and recent studies within the project boundaries indicated that prehistoric remains affiliated with the Hohokam culture were likely to be present within the greater project area. Because of the potential for gaining information from these resources, the city implemented an extensive testing program.

Two testing projects were actually conducted within the Phoenix Sky Harbor Center. In late 1988 and early 1989, BRW, Inc., tested what was then referred to as the Mera Bank parcel, a 60-acre area (BRW 1989). This volume focuses on the larger portions of the Phoenix Sky Harbor Center and includes the research design for the testing phase, a historic review of the project area (with a discussion of previous archaeological research in the project area), and the relationship of the project resources to Canal System 2. The volume also discusses geomorphologic studies, including the effects of geomorphology on project resources, and the spatial distributions and temporal associations of the resources and their importance in the prehistory of the Phoenix Basin. Also included in this volume are the research design and the plan of work for data recovery, which were developed directly from the results of the testing phase.

The Phoenix Sky Harbor Center is designed to accommodate light industry. Because of its proximity to Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, some of the businesses located here provide airport support services. The physical changes to the project area involved construction of new buildings, realignment of roadways, and upgrading and replacing of utilities. In those areas identified as clear zones (located at the ends of the runways for Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport), surface parking facilities were planned. Plans for the Phoenix Sky Harbor Center thus included a wide range of development projects and uses that could potentially destroy significant archaeological resources.

Prior to the City of Phoenix’s development of the Phoenix Sky Harbor Center, the project area was principally residential. For implementation of the planned development, the City of Phoenix acquired most of the property and removed the majority of structures and roadways. An archaeological testing program was devised because surface expressions of archaeological remains within the project area were limited to a few scattered artifact concentrations. In consultation with the Arizona State Historic Preservation Office, staff members of the City of Phoenix determined that systematic backhoe trenching would be appropriate for evaluating potential subsurface cultural deposits and for developing a plan to mitigate impacts to those resources discovered. Areas such as the remote parking lots under construction at the end of the north runway were monitored, an approach that was considered appropriate because the potential for finding subsurface remains in this area was low, and ground disturbing activities were limited. All resources encountered in the monitored areas were recorded during the construction phase to avoid delays.

The results of the testing phase identified two sites having the potential to provide valuable research data, Dutch Canal Ruin (AZ T: 12:62, ASM) and Pueblo Salado (AZ T:12:47, ASM), and both were considered eligible for addition to the National Register of Historic Places under Criterion (d) of 36 CFR part 60. Both Dutch Canal Ruin and Pueblo Salado contained habitation areas in association with agricultural field areas and canal irrigation features. By defining the resource locales in the project area, the City of Phoenix was able to proceed with development in areas where the work would not impinge on cultural resources. A mitigative data recovery plan was therefore developed to reduce potential impacts to the resources and to recover important information about the prehistory of the project area.

The two sites differed in composition, function, and temporal associations, requiring a research strategy that included excavation and analytical methods designed to retrieve appropriate information from both sites. During the course of the field work, the research design and plan of work functioned as working documents, allowing investigators to change research strategies as necessary.

The Phoenix Sky Harbor Center Project provided another opportunity to conduct Hohokam archaeological investigations in urban Phoenix. It was the first project of its size—1.00 mile (1609 m) east-west by nearly 1.25 miles (2012 m) north-south—to be conducted within the central metropolitan area. As currently understood, the greater part of both sites lay within the project area, and up to a mile of continuous canal alignments was available for study. Given the spatial constraints usually placed on projects conducted in urban settings, the Phoenix Sky Harbor Center Project provided a unique research opportunity.

The research focused on land-use patterns on the geologic floodplain of the Salt River. Dutch Canal Ruin provided an opportunity to examine pre-Classic period land-use strategies principally centered on field houses and canal irrigation. The irrigation settlements and canals, some of the earliest documented in Canal System 2, dated to the late Pioneer and early Colonial periods. The project area was abandoned before the Classic period. At Pueblo Salado, settlement was established during the Soho phase and continued through the Civano phase and into the Polvoron phase. Dutch Canal Ruin was reoccupied during the Civano and Polvoron phases.

Archaeological investigations in the Phoenix Sky Harbor Center have produced important data on land use, canal networks, settlement strategies, and the post-Classic period of the Hohokam. Project testing and data recovery contributed to the regional data base and resulted in the development of models for canal settlements within Canal System 2. Examination of socio-economic associations indicated that Pueblo Salado maintained a high level of autonomy within the Hohokam regional system. Investigators also examined the effects of alluviation and urbanization on cultural resources and developed models to assist in planning future undertakings in urban settings. This project was successful in meeting all of the research goals for the testing phase and most of the research goals for the data recovery phase. Mitigation efforts likewise were successful.

The City of Phoenix should be recognized for its sensitivity in continuing to protect its cultural properties, resources that highlight our past and our heritage.

Cite this Record

Early Desert Farming and Irrigation Settlements, Archaeological Investigations in the Phoenix Sky Harbor Center, Volume 1: Testing Results and Data Recovery Plan. David H. Greenwald. SWCA Anthropological Research Paper ,4. Tucson, AZ: SWCA Inc., Environmental Consultants. 1994 ( tDAR id: 398957) ; doi:10.6067/XCV8CN75N8

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Spatial Coverage

min long: -112.091; min lat: 33.408 ; max long: -112.029; max lat: 33.445 ;


General Note: The curation of this report was supported by a Seed Grant from the Institute for Humanities Research, Arizona State University as part of the Digital Archive of Hohokam Archaeology (DAHA) Project.

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Contact(s): City of Phoenix Archaeology Office

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