Downtown Digs

One step ahead of bulldozers, Urban archaeologists pull historic treasures from America's cityscapes

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None of which should be taken to mean that the Río Nuevo buildings will be moved or altered significantly. Marty McCune, Tucson’s historic preservation officer, points out that urban archaeology here is not an end in itself but part of an elaborate trade-off. Development will continue. The mission and garden ruins will be carefully preserved, but "we’re still destroying a lot," she says. "At least we’re getting valuable historical information first."

Alas, the public will likely see little of it. Although museum exhibits at Río Nuevo will interpret the items now being found, the Arizona State Museum in Tucson, like other potential showcases for such treasures throughout the Southwest, is already overloaded. There’s just no room, except in warehouses, for all the new goodies.

I have to be satisfied with the knowledge that those brown bags I helped fill will eventually wind up at Desert Archaeology’s Tucson laboratory. There, a team of biological, ceramic, soil and rock specialists will wash, examine and inventory all the artifacts, adding to the evolving big picture. It makes me smile to think, as the fascinating reinterpretation of Tucson’s history continues to unfold, that my days spent playing in the dirt are even a small part of it.


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