Ancient canals revealing historic clues at future Cubs home in Mesa - East Valley Tribune: Mesa

Ancient canals revealing historic clues at future Cubs home in Mesa

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Posted: Sunday, April 22, 2012 8:00 am

Before the Chicago Cubs start a new chapter of their history in a new Mesa training complex, archeologists are scouring the team’s future home for clues about the ancient Hohokam who once thrived in the area.

An expedition has revealed three prehistoric canals under the former Riverview Golf Course, along with pottery shards.

Archeologists already know the Hohokam were masterful engineers when it came to moving water, but the Riverview project has the potential to expand that knowledge. One intriguing feature is a canal that passes over the remnants of an older waterway, said Jerry Howard, anthropology curator at the Arizona Museum of Natural History.

“It may tell us some interesting new stories. It’s beginning to look like they restructured the canal systems late in time,” Howard said. “It’s probably going to tell us a bit about how they’re managing water late in time. They’re stressing the resource. They’re using all the water at the time.”

With more work, Howard said archeologists could reveal important information about how the Hohokam’s social and political systems dealt with those events.

The Hohokam lived in the Valley from about 1 A.D. to 1450 A.D. and built the most advanced prehistoric canal system in North America.

Archeologists weren’t surprised to find the canals because other explorations have found nearby canals that came off the Salt River. The newly found canals run under the golf course that closed in March, in preparation for construction on a $99 million spring training complex that begins this summer at the southeast corner of the Loop 101 and Loop 202 freeways.

Crews have used backhoes for three weeks now to cut trenches into the site’s hilly terrain of greenways and greens. The cross sections reveal different colors of soil and silt that formed the ancient canal bottom and, eventually, filled in the man-made features.

Archeologists may need another three weeks to explore and document the findings, Howard said.

The canals unearthed at Riverview are about 20 feet wide and 12 feet deep. Archeologist Walter “Dutch” Duering said the dig has revealed canals and pottery shards but no human remains. One unusual find is a shard that makes a particular sound when taped, indicating it probably came from another part of Arizona.

Canals have been excavated across the Valley over many years. Still, Howard said it’s always impressive to see the size of the waterways, which likely included 1,000 miles of canals built over a 1,000-year span.

“It’s a really intriguing story that shows people the marvel of the human mind has been here for a long time,” he said. “I always tell my students that it gives you a hope for the future. If they could do that with digging sticks and baskets, we can do anything.”

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