Touching The Past

Archaeology group recovers pieces of past in area digs

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Photos courtesy of the Rim Country Chapter of the Arizona Archaeological Society

Aspiring amateur archaeologists of all ages have contributed hours of back-breaking labor and delicate effort to excavating the Risser Ranch Ruins of Payson.

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Photos courtesy of the Rim Country Chapter of the Arizona Archaeological Society

Members of the Rim Country Chapter of the Arizona Archaeological Society have been working the Risser ruins since 1987 and even own 3/4 of an acre at the site.

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Photos courtesy of the Rim Country Chapter of the Arizona Archaeological Society

They have also worked the Shoofly Ruins off Houston Mesa Road and are scheduled to help with work related to the Tuzigoot and Montezuma Well sites in the Verde Valley this spring. Learn more about the group at its meeting, 10 a.m., Saturday, Feb. 20 at the Church of the Holy Nativity at the corner of Bradley and Easy Streets, off Rancho Road in Payson.

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Photos courtesy of the Rim Country Chapter of the Arizona Archaeological Society

They work with some of the oldest elements of the Rim Country. But the organization is one of the newer groups in the area, in spite of celebrating its 24th anniversary at its meeting Feb. 20.

The Rim Country Chapter of the Arizona Archaeology Society organized in February 1986. It traces its roots to a class at Gila Pueblo Community College in Payson, Introduction to Archaeology.

Initially the group used the name Shoofly Chapter because of the proximity to the Shoofly Village Ruins off the Houston Mesa Road. The name was changed to “Rim Country Chapter of the Arizona Archaeology Society” in 2000.

A little more than a year after the group organized it was recognized by the Payson Town Council. Payson Mayor Russell D. Bemler proclaimed March 22-28, 1987 as Arizona Archaeology Week.

Since the chapter’s inception members have been involved in the delicate excavation work at area ruins. They worked the Shoofly Ruins in June 1986; and have worked the Risser Ranch Ruins since 1987. In fact, the group now owns 3/4 of an acre at the Risser site, purchased in 2001.

Its search for a permanent home for its artifacts, archives and meetings is the story of a nomadic life. The members have bounced around between Green Valley Park and its museum buildings to several sites on Historic Main Street and now take shelter once a month at the Church of the Holy Nativity at the corner of Easy Street and Bradley Drive. The chapter’s monthly meetings are held at 10 a.m. the third Saturday of each month at the church.

In 1987 the Northern Gila County Historical Museum subleased the use of the old ranger station office building to the chapter as a meeting place. In 1988 space for the chapter library was offered at Pioneer Title because the old ranger station office building was needed by the genealogy society.

While it had a place for its library, the chapter had to do its “lab” work at the home of Audrie Harrison. It was there members of the chapter began to clean and sort sherds from Risser Ruin and started pottery assembly sessions.

Several years later, in 1991, the chapter was offered the use of a building on Main Street by Tom and Sandra Armer, who were leaving the area to make their home in Sedona.

It was 10 years later the group had the chance to create the Museum of Rim Country Archaeology in the Womans Club building on Main Street when the public library moved into its new home in Rumsey Park.

It took until July 2003 to get the little museum open and it had to close its doors in 2007 when the lease with the Womans Club could not be renegotiated.

While the group’s artifacts are homeless at present, it has not stopped its educational and networking efforts. Many of its monthly meetings are partnered with workshops. Recently there was a program on photography, and at the Feb. 20 meeting guest speaker Miles Gilbert, with the National Resources Conservation Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, will be lecturing on Ice Age People and Animals of the Colorado Plateau.

It hosted the state meeting of the Arizona Archaeological Society in October 2009, with more than 80 guests from throughout the state and even a few from Colorado, according to Evelyn Christian, president of the group, who prepared the material on which this article is based.

The state meeting included hikes to Rye Creek, Risser Ranch and Goat Camp ruins and to the Zulu and Anderson Mesa Petroglyphs. Programs by Wally Davis of the Tonto Apache Tribe and Todd Bostwick of the Pueblo Grande Museum in Phoenix, who discussed discoveries found during the expansion of Sky Harbor.

The group has hosted gatherings of amateur and professional archaeologists on a number of occasions in the past. It has also offered specialized training sessions attended by as many as 70 people.

While the chapter plans no special programs for the upcoming Archaeology Month in March, it does have several projects on its plate.

Christian said a new project starting this spring will be with volunteers assisting the work of Matt Guebard, National Park Service archaeologist at Tuzigoot and Montezuma Castle in the Verde Valley. Work there will include documentation and preservation at Tuzigoot Ruin, monitoring of backcountry monuments and cleaning and stabilization of an interpretive pit house at the Montezuma Well.

To learn more about the Rim Country Chapter of the Arizona Archaeological Society, the public is invited to attend the 10 a.m., Saturday, Feb. 20 meeting at the Church of the Holy Nativity at the corner of Easy Street and Bradley Drive, Payson.

To see the variety of events planned throughout the state for Arizona Archaeology and Heritage Awareness Month, March 2010, visit the Arizona State Parks Web site AZStateParks.com.

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