November 17th, 2010


Preserve Infrastructure, by Catherine Higgins.

When road construction and ancient ruins coincide, much care is taken to locate and preserve artifacts.

Archeologist Sonia Hutmacher holds a recovered artifact. UDOT preserved thirty ancient structures and over 3,000 artifacts at the Dixie Drive Interchange construction site. She gave a presentation today at UDOT's annual Engineering Conference.

The Puebloan Ancestral People lived in the Four Corners area of Utah, New Mexico, Colorado and Arizona. Elegant examples of their adobe homes draw tourists to sites like Hovenweep National Monument on the border between Utah and Coloradoor Mesa Verde National Monument in Colorado.

Remnants of that ancient civilization were recently found near the UDOT’s Dixie Drive Interchange construction site in an isolated spot near the confluence of the Virgin and Santa Clara Rivers. UDOT Region Four Archeologist Eric Hansen and AMEC Archeologist Sonia Hutmacher executed a recovery effort as part of the construction team.

Hansen and Hutmacher initially thought that the recovery effort would be minimal. The site had been leveled by heavy equipment and two giant billboards had been constructed nearby. Accumulated modern trash was also evidence of human activity. At first glance, it seemed like no cultural deposits would be found.

It only took a couple of days to find out that the “entire surface was covered in artifacts” and had 30 residential structures. Most of the structures were rectangular, similar toLost City dwellings which have been reconstructed in Nevada. Sadly, many had also been looted and partially destroyed. UDOT archeologists pushed forward in recovery mode.

Working in the area was hot, dusty and time consuming. The recovery team screened dirt bucket by bucket and eventually recovered approximately 3,000 artifacts and was successful at preserving the structures located by Hansen, Hutmacher and team in the UDOT right of way.

Success was due to having a “people oriented project team,” says Hutmacher who stressed that cooperation among team members and with other agencies was paramount during the effort.

Another reason for success was the way the archeologists were completely integrated as members of the construction team. Hutmacher advised that to provide the most help, archeologists need to “get on board right away” and be involved in the project planning stage to “keep on schedule and help hold costs down.”

Hutmacher is glad that the recovered artifacts have been preserved by “UDOT’s Right of Way caretakers” so the objects can help archeologists understand how pit structures were formed and shaped.

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  1. Being a Gilbert real estate agent, we run across a very similar scenario, except we do not find as many relics or ruins as we do Wooly Mammoth’s. It turns out that part of Arizona were dominated by these massive animals about 15,000 years ago and they find entire skeletons from time to time.

    Gilbert Real Estate at February 25, 2011 6:59 pm
  2. I think it is fantastic that UDOT invested the time and money to recover the site. What a great post! We rarely ever hear of any ancient artifacts being uncovered here.

  3. There was a recent discovery in the Fort Worth area of a Mammoth skeleton.

  4. Where I live near Joplin, Missouri we farmers will ocassionally stumble upon some Native American Indian artifacts but nothing like these homes. The recent tornados have probably ripped out whatever artifacts we have, so it’s good to see the archeologists jumping in right away to save it.

  5. It is good! There’s so much we don’t know about the Ancestral Puebloan people. I hope the artifacts help scientists build a more complete picture of their life in Utah. After the road is completed, it will be good to know that UDOT participated in building that knowledge base.

    Catherine Higgins at August 30, 2011 11:33 pm
  6. Just when you think we’ve discovered it all.. that just goes to show us how big our world really is and how much is yet to be discovered.

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