After 70+ years on this planet, I have made my share of footprints. At the beach. Hiking in the mountains. But I doubt that any of the impressions my feet made in the sand or dirt lasted more than a couple of days at most. Now, here in Tucson, you can witness human footprints that are between 2500 and 3000 years old.
Some of you may know about the ancient footprints archaeologists discovered last year when road construction started on Sunset (Exit 251) to tie I-10 to Silverbell. You old time Tucsonans will recall that there once was a Sunset Road from the freeway to Silverbell, including a bridge over Rio Santa Cruz. But that all washed away in the flood of 1983.
The area of work once was the flood plain of the Rillito River, whose main channel is now closer to Orange Grove. Archaeologists know that the silt is from the Rillito and not the Santa Cruz because the sediment contains a lot of mica that the river washes out of its headwaters in the Santa Catalina Mountains.
Archaeologists have known for quite a while that humans have inhabited the Tucson basin for at least 12,000 years. But until about 3,000 years ago, these Paleo-Indians were hunter-gatherers and moved with the seasons.
(Paleo-Indians: Earliest inhabitants of the New World who were hunter-gatherers (not farmers) of Asian origin extant in the late Pleistocene.)
However, about 1,000 BCE, some groups started farming and became more settled. Using water from springs and rivers, they made irrigation canals and raised maize, and later squash, and tepary beans. But they supplemented their crops by gathering mesquite beans and other naturally occurring edibles, such as acorns, cholla buds, and saguaro fruit.
Back then, our Southwest was wetter and colder. For example, the Rillito and Santa Cruz flowed perennially. These Paleo-Indians hunted rabbit & deer, but also prehistoric giants such as, sloths, bison and mammoths. To kill big game, they used spears and atlatls with specialized sharp points. Bow and arrow technology was not invented until much later.
(If you don’t know what an atlatl is, the archaeologists at this site can show you. Most ingenious, particularly the tips! With this technology, these “primitive” people could, in cooperative hunting groups, bring down ancient bison that were far larger than our American buffalo and mammoths bigger than African elephants.)
The Hohokam culture, whose pottery and extensive, exceptionally well-engineered irrigation canals we are most familiar with, did not rise until about 300 BCE and lasted until about 1450 CE (Think Casa Grande Ruins National Monument near Florence). So whomever made these amazingly preserved footprints at Sunset predated the Hohokam in the Tucson area. Our earlier farmers made expert baskets, but actual fired ceramic containers for seed storage did not exist until about 200 CE.
At the site, we observed adult and child footprints, and those of a domesticated dog. The excavation area is about 15 X 30 meters. They have made a raised berm so visitors can look down on the excavation.
The next (and perhaps the last) scheduled public tours are:
Friday, Saturday & Sunday February 5th, 6th and 7th between 10 AM and 2 PM. Tours are scheduled every 20 minutes, but our experience was more like every 40 minutes. Worthwhile? Yup! Questions? Call 520-724-6940. Or to learn more visit the Archaeology Southwest Website.