Monday, January 24, 2005

I see dead people. Archaeologists often have to deal with human remains as they excavate land being developed for new roads, homes, businesses, or other uses. Usually these are Native American burials, since there are thousands of Native American sites in Arizona. Nowadays we quickly hand the remains and all associated artifacts (grave goods) over to tribes or nations and they rebury them on tribal lands. A law enacted in 1990 requires all museums in the United States to inventory their collections and Native American groups can request the return of burials and related artifacts, along with other religious or sacred artifacts. The process hasn't been perfect and some of the mistrust that developed between Native Americans and archaeologists over the years continues. I wish we could just leave the burials in place and not develop the land, but that is often impossible.

Occasionally historic period burials are found. Last week construction workers on the east side of Tucson found a more recent burial, perhaps 100 years old. They were stripping away dirt to build a new church building and a coffin was uncovered. Archaeologists from the university excavated the burial, which turned out to be a woman in her thirties, buried wearing a dress, now decomposed to some scraps of cloth and three shell buttons. She was buried holding a crucifix and rosary in her hand, which indicates she was Catholic, most likely a Mexican woman.

I offered to research the history of the property and was able to identify the land owner, a man born in Kentucky in 1837, and a Mexican family, the Aguilars, who lived on the land in 1900. The woman buried at the property was probably a relative or friend of those people. Later this week they will publicize the historical research I did hoping that someone will be able to identify the woman.

Crucifix and rosary beads.

In other news, beautiful day in Tucson. Warm, it rained again last night. I keep seeing frigid pictures of Boston, New York, and Chicago. Meanwhile I have to turn the AC on in my car.

The view from work.

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