Sunset Crater Archaeology: The History of a Volcanic Landscape, Introduction and Site Descriptions, Part 1

Editor(s): Mark D. Elson

Year: 2006


The U.S. 89 Archaeological Project investigated 41 prehistoric sites located approximately 30 km north of Flagstaff, Arizona. All sites were on Coconino National Forest (CNF) land. The project was conducted by Desert Archaeology, Inc., for the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) prior to the widening and improvement of 26.7 km (16.6 miles) of U.S. 89, between the southern boundary of Wupatki National Monument in the north, and the town of Fernwood in the south. Archaeological fieldwork occurred over two primary field seasons in 1997 and 1998, with a very brief field season in 1999. A total of almost 12 person-years of labor was expended on the fieldwork.

The U.S. 89 project area crosses diverse environmental zones, ranging from juniper-sage grasslands in the north at approximately 5,700 ft (1,737 m) asl, to ponderosa pine forests at over 7,200 ft (2,195 m) asl in the south. Mixed pinyon pine and juniper woodlands comprise the middle elevations. Five elevation zones were defined, using increments of 500 ft as a proxy for changes in precipitation, temperature, and vegetation. All project area sites are also within 25 km of Sunset Crater Volcano, with the closest sites only 5-6 km away. Sunset Crater erupted for a few years sometime between A.D. 1050 and 1125. Basalt lava from the eruption covered an area of approximately 8 km2, while another 2,300 km2 was covered by cinder and ash deposits. Sunset Crater cinders were found on all project area sites. An isopach map of cinder depth constructed for this project indicates that, minimally, the U.S. 89 sites were covered with from 5-50 cm of volcanic material, which had a significant impact on prehistoric settlement, subsistence, and economic systems. Prehistoric adaptation to environmental variability and to the Sunset Crater eruption were primary research themes.

The results of the U.S. 89 investigations are presented in a series of anthropological papers: Anthropological Papers No. 30, Part I and Part 2, contain background information on the project and descriptions of the 41 investigated sites.Part 1 includes the two sites in Elevation Zone 1 (5,700-6,199 ft [1,737-1,889 m] asl) and 11 sites in Elevation Zone 2 (6,200-6,699 ft [1,890-2,042 m] asl), the lower elevation zones in the northern half of the project area.

Cite this Record

Sunset Crater Archaeology: The History of a Volcanic Landscape, Introduction and Site Descriptions, Part 1. Mark D. Elson. 2006 ( tDAR id: 428179) ; doi:10.6067/XCV8428179

This Resource is Part of the Following Collections


Spatial Coverage

min long: -111.587; min lat: 35.223 ; max long: -111.522; max lat: 35.369 ;

Individual & Institutional Roles

Contact(s): Salt River Project Cultural Resource Manager

Contributor(s): Jenny L. Adams; Susan D. Hall; Michael H. Ort; Bruce G. Phillips

Field Director(s): Terry L. Samples; Deborah L. Swartz

Project Director(s): Mark D. Elson

Prepared By(s): Center for Desert Archaeology

Submitted To(s): Arizona Department of Transportation Environmental and Enhancement Group

Record Identifiers

Anthropological Papers No.(s): 30

TRACS No.(s): 089 CN 434 H2022 02D

Contract No.(s): 97-41


General Note: Part 1 of 2.

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Contact(s): Salt River Project Cultural Resource Manager