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Preserving archaeology and culture for our future


From “Spear-point site in SE Ariz. gets landmark status” by Tom Beal, in Tucson’s Arizona Daily Star, October 19, 2012

About 13,000 years ago, the earliest-known human inhabitants of the New World killed and butchered mammoths and bison near the San Pedro River east of Sierra Vista – a site designated this week as a National Historic Landmark.

The Murray Springs Clovis site was excavated from 1966 to 1972 by a University of Arizona team led by C. Vance Haynes, Jr. and Peter Mehringer, both archaeologists at the Arizona State Museum. It is now part of the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area, managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.
Work at the site led to a deeper understanding of the nomadic hunters who were called “Clovis” for the distinctive spearpoints they left behind – first unearthed near Clovis, N.M.

Clovis left little else for archaeologists to uncover, but at Murray Springs, Haynes and Mehringer found an encampment that revealed a range of activities – hearths, tools and megafauna killed by the hunters, including a mammoth and 12 bison.

“It’s an unusual record of a variety of activities,” said Vance Holliday, a UA anthropologist who continues study of Clovis sites here and in Mexico. “It is well-documented and well-preserved. There is really nothing quite like it anywhere in North America.”

Murray Springs is one of 26 sites designated as National Historic Landmarks this week by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.

The new sites range from the homes of the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous to the birthplace of the United Farm Workers union in Keene, Calif. – a site named César E. Chavez National Monument earlier his month by President Obama.

A second Arizona landmark chosen this week is the Poston Elementary School, one of the few remaining buildings at the site of the country’s largest internment camp, built to hold Japanese-American citizens during World War II.

That camp, on Indian land along the Colorado River south of Parker, was built in 120 days by developer Del Webb in 1942. At its peak, it held a population of 17,814.

Murray Springs is easily the oldest of the sites designated this week. The hunters occupied it for a short time about 13,000 years ago.
Haynes, retired from teaching but still doing research at Arizona State Museum, said the designation was overdue. “It only took 30 years,” he said.
Haynes and Mehringer worked with archaeologist Emil Haury on earlier digs, including the Lehner Mammoth Kill Site, another National Historic Landmark along the San Pedro.

“Clovis are the first clearly documented occupants of the New World and Arizona has been a major contributor to this knowledge,” said Haynes.
Haynes and Mehringer explored the length of the upper San Pedro, looking for a distinctive “black mat” – a geological feature believed to be the fossilized remains of an algae bloom that occurred during a wet period known as the Younger Dryas.

They found it near Curry Draw. Beneath it, protected by it, were thousands of artifacts now curated at the state museum.

“We discovered we had a mammoth kill, then a huge bison kill – 12 bison. Then, nearby, a campsite where they probably jerked the meat before they moved on.

“We found well over a thousand artifacts, little piles of flakes where they had been sitting there sharpening a tool or making a tool, all beautifully preserved.”

Haynes hopes the designation will help researchers get grants to continue the excavation of Murray Springs and give it greater protection. The big threat to it right now, he said, is infiltration of water from the city of Sierra Vista’s wastewater disposal plant less than a mile away.

The BLM is studying the impact of that additional moisture.

Contact reporter Tom Beal at tbeal@azstarnet.com or [520] 573-4158.

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