The public lands around Payson contain hundreds or perhaps thousands of prehistoric sites that are wide open to any hiker or passersby, according to Dennis DuBose with the Rim Country Chapter, Arizona Archaeological Society.
Many people seriously interested in archaeology are very sensitive to the prospect of vandalism or theft, so there is a reluctance to share information on “undeveloped” sites, he said.
DuBose said there are only one or two archaeological sites in the immediate Payson area that are intentionally open to the public. One is Shoofly Ruin on Tonto National Forest land near the development of Mesa del Caballo, northeast of Payson. It is a ruin excavated many years ago and now has pathways and interpretive signs. The other is Goat Camp Ruin in Payson. It is currently under excavation and near a popular public hiking trail.
Shoofly is on the south side of the Houston Mesa Road, about a mile beyond the “Y” where the entrance to Mesa del Caballo is on the left.
Formal excavation began in 1984, under the direction of Dr. Charles Redman of Arizona State University.
It is a large prehistoric site occupied during the 12th century AD. Archaeologists had visited the site periodically since the mid-1950s, but Redman’s work was the first systematic investigation.
Researchers were attracted to the site by its relatively undamaged condition and its intriguing community layout.
Unlike most southwestern sites, a substantial compound wall surrounds the buildings at Shoofly and the buildings appear to be built according to more than one design. The central core of the site is comprised of a set of large contiguous rooms built in a pueblo-like fashion with full masonry walls that in some places have a second story. Around this core, but within the compound enclosure, are a series of small groups of less substantially built houses and about 10 curvilinear structures.
There are several explanations of the different building styles, but the most immediate explanation when the formal investigation began is that each community design represents a different period of occupation, with Shoofly being lived in for a relatively long period. However, the evidence available in the early to mid-1980s did not support this idea.
A second explanation is that the different housing types represent a permanent year-round group of inhabitants in the central core and seasonal occupants in the peripheral room blocks.
A third possible explanation, and the most difficult to prove, but one favored by Redman at the time, is that the site shows socially, and perhaps, culturally distinct groups of people brought together to live in Shoofly Village. This association may have been voluntary, in response to some external conditions, or it may have been forced, under the control of powerful individuals living in the core room block.
The people who occupied Shoofly Village more than 800 years ago were not the Hohokam, who built in the platform mounds and ballcourts to the south in the Salt-Gila drainage. They were not the Anasazi who lived in the great masonry sites of Mesa Verde and Chaco Canyon.
The people of Shoofly did not produce the painted pottery that characterizes each of the other two peoples, nor did they build their settlement in similar ways.
Probably the closest parallels are from the Flagstaff and upper Verde River Valley, where people known as the Sinagua lived. Wapatki, Tuzigoot and Montezuma’s Castle are all settlements of the Sinagua. Despite several parallels with the remains of these people, those at Shoofly do not clearly fit the image, so it is possible they are an as yet unknown prehistoric group, at least that was one theory in the early years of the site investigation.
The people of Shoofly were farmers and hunters. They grew corn, squash, cotton and at least two kinds of beans. They hunted deer, rabbits, rodents, birds and migratory fowl. They may have raised domestic turkeys, but if so, it was not an important part of their diet.
Their primary tools were made of stone and not elaborately fashioned. Their arrowheads are almost all tiny, triangular shaped, and less than an inch.
The most abundant artifacts recovered in the excavations were pieces of broken pottery. These were almost all from jar-shaped containers made of undecorated brown clay. All of their objects were not plain, however, with small figurines, fine stone pendants, and shiny quartz crystals found in many households.
The people of Shoofly Village abandoned their site early in the 13th century.
From the Roundup archives (1986)