National Park Service U.S. Department of the Interior

National Register of Historic Places Program:
National American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month
University Indian Ruin Archeological Research District,
Pima County, Arizona

The National Register of Historic Places is the official list of the Nation's historic places worthy of preservation. Authorized by the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, the National Park Service's National Register of Historic Places is part of a national program to coordinate and support public and private efforts to identify, evaluate, and protect America's historic and archeological resources.

 

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University Indian Ruin Archeological Research District
Photo by T. J. Ferguson, courtesy of the Arizona State Historic Preservation Office

The University Indian Ruin Archeological Research District, located in the northeast portion of the Tucson Basin in Pima County, Arizona, includes University Indian Ruin, a prehistoric archeological village, as well as a historic complex of archeological research facilities that was constructed in the 1930s. The archeological site consists of a large Classic period Hohokam village, occupied primarily between A.D. 1150 and 1450. It is one of the largest prehistoric village sites in the eastern portion of the Tucson Basin and contains at least two or three platform mounds, a type of Classic period monumental architecture found only at the largest and most significant of Hohokam habitation sites. The presence of platform mounds indicates that the site was occupied by powerful village leaders and other high status inhabitants, and likely served as a locale for regional ceremonial activities.

[photo]
University Indian Ruin Archeological Research District
Photo by T. J. Ferguson, courtesy of the Arizona State Historic Preservation Office

The prehistoric component of the University Indian Ruin Archaeological Research District was assigned the Arizona State Museum (ASM) site number AZ BB: 9:33 in the early 1930s. The archaeological investigation of the site by University of Arizona professors and students began soon after. The history of archeological excavation of the nominated property demonstrates a pioneering inter-agency collaborative effort involving an academic by the University of Arizona’s Department of Anthropology, in conjunction with preservation efforts by the National Park Service, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), Pima County and the City of Tucson. The joint taskforce succeeded in making University Indian Ruin one of the most well-preserved platform mound sites in the American Southwest. Multiple 20th century historic buildings, most of them constructed by the CCC between 1935 and 1937 as infrastructure for archeological investigations, are also included in the nominated property.

The University Indian Ruin Archeological Research District provides a physical representation of the historical development of archeology as a discipline, in a distinctively American form. Byron Cummings and Emil Haury played major roles in the development of Southwestern archeology, the establishment of the Department of Anthropology at the University of Arizona, and in the training of future archeologists. Under the direction of Cummings, University Indian Ruin became the first archeological site in the United States where helium balloon aerial photography was employed. Emil Haury, head of the Department of Anthropology at the University of Arizona in 1937, followed Cummings’ lead and continued with student training. By 1938, the focus of the investigations was to divide up the property into a 30-m by 30-m grid and excavate a 30-m long stratigraphic test trench in the southeastern corner of the property. In the following year, Haury shifted his focus to horizontal excavation of a grid block within the center of the site. Haury’s students used the skills they developed during the University Indian Ruin summer seminars to continue their work in the fields of archaeology and anthropology, making significant contributions to both disciplines. 

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University Indian Ruin Archeological Research District
Photo by T. J. Ferguson, courtesy of the Arizona State Historic Preservation Office

University Indian Ruin, AZ BB: 9:93 (ASM) is significant in its potential to contribute knowledge about the Hohokam Classic period in the Tucson basin. This time period in the Tucson Basin is not well known, especially the Tucson phase that occurs at the end of this period. In this respect, the recovery of a possible Majolica bowl from the floor of a structure may be particularly significant, because this would suggest that the University Indian Ruin was the only known Hohokam site still occupied when the Spanish entered Mexico. If the presence of this pot can be verified, or if additional Spanish period material is recovered, archeologists would need to rewrite the late prehistoric period of the Southwest. The prehistoric site can also provide important information on the Classic period articulation with earlier and later periods of local Hohokam prehistory, as well as show how Tucson Basin Classic period inhabitants interacted with other groups throughout southern and central Arizona.

For more than a thousand years, the Hohokam culture evolved and flourished throughout the Tucson Basin, and in the valleys of the Salt and Gila Rivers in central and southern Arizona. The archeologically defined Hohokam (meaning, “those who have gone,” or “finished ones,” in Pima mythology) were agriculturalists, many of whom irrigated large areas of desert river valley in southern Arizona to grow corn, beans, squash, and cotton. While the cultural origins of the Hohokam remain somewhat obscure, archeologists have considered the possibilities of indigenous cultural evolution in central and southern Arizona, with a series of additional cultural contributions from west Mexico. Beginning as early as 1500 B.C., the Hohokam began digging small irrigation canals, planting fields, and constructing pit house hamlets near modern Phoenix and Tucson. Over the course of the next several hundred years, the Hohokam expanded their settlements and canal systems to the point that by the 10th and 11th centuries A.D., archeologists estimate that more than 15,000 people were living in the Phoenix Basin, supported, in part, by over 25,000 irrigated acres. At this time, the Hohokam regional system encompassed much of the Sonoran desert environmental zone, and was spread throughout southern and central Arizona, from the New River and Tonto Basin areas in the north, to below the Mexican border in the south, and from the Colorado River in the west, to the San Pedro Rive in the east. During the Classic period, the overall geographic area occupied by the Hohokam diminished and the settlements became both larger and fewer in number as villages became more aggregated.

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University Indian Ruin Archeological Research District
Excavation of adobe walls around Platform 1, circa 1940. Photograph courtesy of Arizona State Museum Special Collections.

Platform mounds were constructed at a number of large Tucson Basin villages around A.D. 1275-1300. One platform mound was partially excavated by Julian Hayden in 1940 in the University Indian Ruin Archeological Research District. Based on more recent work by the University of Arizona Archeological Field School, researchers have identified at least one, and possibly two, additional platform mounds within the site. Platform mounds are found throughout southern and central Arizona and consist of a central structure that was deliberately filled to support an elevated room constructed upon a platform. The function of the elevated rooms is unclear; some were undoubtedly used for habitation, whereas others may have been primarily ceremonial. Building a platform mound took organized and directed labor, and the mounds are believed to be symbols of a socially differentiated society. The Hohokam culture disappeared from archaeological view around A.D. 1450.

Towards the end of the Hohokam culture, changing climate conditions, including repeated flooding, destroyed much of their irrigation system and necessitated the abandonment of much of their land. When the Spanish entered the region in the 1600s, the desacendants of the Tucson Basin Indians were living in scattered bands around Hohokam-like rancherias. Today these people are known as the Pimas and Papagos.

The University Indian Ruin Archeological Research District was listed in the National Register of Historic Places on October 17, 2012.

American Indian and Native Alaska Heritage Month

Information for this page was taken from:
lan M. Milliken, Maggie Evancho, Theodore Gatchell, John Logan, Anna Martin, Enid Messerli, A.J. Vonarx, Tyler Theriot, Mark Elson, PhD, and T. J. Ferguson, PhD., University Indian Ruin Archeological Research District nomination, Arizona SHPO, October 17, 2012
and
by Linda M. Gregonis & Karl J. Reinhard, Hohokam Indians of the
Tucson Basin at http://www.uapress.arizona.edu/onlinebks/HOHOKAM/CHAP1.HTM