Coconino Rim Survey 1999 - Passport in Time

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Coconino Rim Survey

Kaibab National Forest, Arizona, 1999
by Neil S. Weintraub, FS Archaeologist

The Kaibab NF Heritage Team hosted its 10th and 11th PIT projects in August and September 1999. The goal of the projects was to record sites along the Coconino Rim on the Tusayan Ranger District. Previously, little was known about the archaeology of this relatively roadless area located near the Grand Canyon. Fifteen PIT volunteers helped archaeologists record 33 new sites, rerecord 4, and revisit 2. The sites included artifact scatters, cliff dwellings, pictographs, rockshelters, and hilltop pueblos with massive masonry wall rubble. One site, possibly associated with Pai people, even contained some early Hopi pottery. During the course of the two projects, volunteers contributed 612 person-hours toward survey and recording.

The project took place along the Coconino Rim at elevations from 6,700 to 7,200 feet in the ponderosa pine zone. There are no nearby springs; however, Hull Tank may have held water during prehistoric times. The soils are derived from Kaibab Limestone on the rim and Coconino Sandstone on the ridges below the rim.

During both projects, PIT crews examined ridge tops and drainages covering an area of approximately 2,754 acres. This included the intensive survey of 34 ridges within the project area. Archaeologists also randomly surveyed several steep hill slopes and drainages. Survey crews ranging in size from 3 to 5 people covered the ridge tops in 200-foot-wide swaths.

Most of the sites dated to the Pueblo III (PIII) period (A.D. 1100–1200). Volunteers found pottery types such as Flagstaff Black-on-white and Tsegi Orange Ware polychromes (sherds rarely seen on the Kaibab). The northwestern end of the Coconino Plateau seems to have a mixture of Cohonina and Puebloan cultural materials. In fact, typical Cohonina Gray Wares were quite uncommon. Moenkopi Corrugated was by far the most commonly found ceramic. The architecture, which consists of large, shaped sandstone slabs, and the presence of circular structures (possibly kivas) seem greatly different from traditional Cohonina styles. A few sites seem to have structures reminiscent of “towers” found in the Hovenweep area of southeast Utah. The easternmost hilltop pueblos contained Turkey Hill Red, an Alameda Brown Ware (made around Flagstaff) never before identified in this region. Even Little Colorado White Wares were found in unexpected quantities. Archaeologists consider 37 of the 39 sites in the project area to be eligible for listing in the NRHP.

Another unanticipated discovery has created more questions. While the hilltop pueblos predominantly have PIII ceramics, the agricultural sites with terraces below them indicated a Late Pueblo I occupation. Although these sites are only a few hundred meters apart, they seem to be separated in time. Despite their extensive rubble, the pueblos seem to have been occupied for only a brief period. The question most volunteers asked is, “If the hilltop pueblos were not habitation structures, then where were the PIII folks living, and why the great effort to build these imposing features?” To take a stab at answering this query, archaeologists will focus their next PIT efforts at the base of the Coconino Rim.

Archaeologists and volunteers filled in many data gaps during the survey. Although the function of these sites may never be known, the FS can now monitor and protect these previously unknown but clearly significant heritage resources.
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