Note: All archaeological sites on public (federal and state) land in Arizona are protected by the Archaeological Resources Protection Act and various state laws that prohibit digging, removing artifacts, and damaging and/or defacing archaeological resources; these laws provide for felony and misdemeanor charges with jail time, confiscation of property, and large fines. Arizona state law also protects graves (human remains) and grave goods located on state and private lands.
Site Stewards Christine Stephenson and Rich Rogers and myself (Bern Carey) were out monitoring sites with Dr. David Wilcox of the Museum of Northern Arizona during February 2009. Rich Rogers happened to see a small piece of pottery exposed at the bottom of a gully created in a slope of volcanic cinders. Upon closer examination it appeared that what was being exposed by erosion of the volcanic cinder slope was a prehistoric pot.
Following Dr. Wilcox's advice the artifact was left in an undisturbed condition and I contacted the lead archeologist for the Peaks Ranger District, Jeremy Haines. Jeremy then asked me to take him to the location in the forest where the possible pot was seen. When there Jeremy observed that there were nearby vehicle tracks from off road vehicles, plus recent foot prints. He was able to determine that this was a very rare find, a large, intact prehistoric pot. Because of the nearby vehicle tracks and footprints Jeremy decided that an emergency excavation of the artifact was required. As Jeremy and I removed the volcanic cinders per professional standards from around the pot it became apparent that this was a very significant find as the pot was completely intact and quite large; approximately 2 feet high and 20 inches in diameter. To our amazement we found that a second pot of equal size was buried with the first pot.
Knowing this it can be estimated that the pots were buried in the volcanic cinders in the 1075-1125 AD time period. Jeremy and I excavated both pots and transported them to a safe location in the Peaks Ranger District headquarters. Upon examination it is felt that this is one of the most significant prehistoric artifact finds ever made in the Coconino National Forest. Jeremy also contacted SHPO to inform them of the find and the need for the emergency excavation. He submitted a formal report which was approved by SHPO. Jeremy, plus members of his archeology staff, assisted by Christine and Rich, returned to the site and made a thorough examination of the site and the surrounding region to ensure the pots were not connected with a burial.
Based upon the general understanding of pottery types in the Flagstaff region we think that these two pots came from two different cultures and two different geographic regions. One pot was made by the Cohonina culture, a Deadman's Fugitive Red pot. This pot may have been made up by the south rim of the Grand Canyon. The other was made by the Kayenta Anasazi culture, a Sosi type pot and may have been made over towards Monument Valley. Somehow over those long distances they came together in the Wupatki region, most probably when the population was flourishing there. The two pots were probably very valuable to some prehistoric family unit. For some unknown reason that family chose to bury them in the cinders, what the archeologists call a "pot cache." I assume those people meant to retreive them at some time, but never did. I wonder why? So, these beautiful pots rested deep in the cinders for approximately the past 900 years until water erosion exposed a bit of one of them and we just happened to be walking by. Pretty amazing.
Since the artifacts were part of the same cultural complex that is represented by the Wupatki National Monument, Jeremy & I approached the Superintendents of the Coconino National Forest and the Flagstaff National Monuments and recommended that the pots be loaned from the US Forest Service to the Wupatki National Monument so that visitors to the monument can see and learn from them. The two Superintendents saw the value of the interagency collaboration and gave their approvals. The National Monument built an attractive and secure display case. These beautiful and important prehistoric pots are now on display in the Wupatki National Monument Visitor Center as of the Fall of 2009.
We three Site Stewards were very lucky to see — Rich Rogers has a good eye — that small bit of one pot sticking out of the cinders. I was fortunate to be there to help excavate the pots. The entire experience was very, very exciting.
See the pots at Wupatki National Monument