Arizona Parks and Recreation Association - Arizona Parks and Recreation Magazine, Winter 2020

Aaron Wright, Preservation Archaeologist, Archaeology Southwest 18 Arizona Parks & Recreation Archaeological Assets Amongst Us A rizona Cities and Towns have several archaeological gems throughout the region. This article will be part one of a four-part series that will spotlight these assets and shed light on what makes them such an important part of our past, present and future. The Gatlin Archaeological Park is located in the town of Gila Bend, at the edge of a terrace above the floodplain of the once-verdant Gila River.The park is named after the Gatlin Site, a Hohokam village that is sometimes referred to as the Gila Bend Site.The site’s moniker comes from “Slick” Gatlin, a local rancher and prominent town figure who once owned the land on which it sits. Sprawled across some 300 acres, the Gatlin Site was the largest Hohokam village along the Gila River below the city of Buckeye. “Hohokam” is an archaeologically defined cultural tradition that flourished in southern Arizona between AD 450 and 1450.The name derives from the O’odham word Huhugam, which translates closely as “those who have perished.”The O’odham consider Huhugam/Hohokam villages as places where their ancestors once lived. The Hohokam tradition is renowned for vivid designs portrayed on pottery and as petroglyphs, ornately carved stone and shell objects, monumental earthworks, and some of the world’s largest pre-industrial irrigation systems. All of this was present at the Gatlin Site, some of which survives and is on display at that the Gatlin Archaeological Park. The Gatlin Archaeological Park preserves the central precinct of the Gatlin Site. This site was home to a vibrant Hohokam community for approximately three centuries, from around AD 850 to 1150. At its peak, the community likely numbered several hundred persons. The site’s main attraction is a large, rectangular earthen monument known to archaeologists as a “platform mound.” Other major features of the site include a plaza, a section of a canal, several dozen trash mounds, hundreds of pithouses, and numerous cemeteries. Additional features once existed beyond this central zone (outside of the park), including two earthen- bermed enclosures where villagers likely played a local version of the Mesoamerican ballgame. The community grew crops, certainly corn and probably others such as beans and squash, on lower lands to the north and west that they irrigated with water from the canal. With other nearby Hohokam villages along the Gila River to the north and west, the Gatlin Site was centrally located and, given its larger population, likely home to the preeminent community in the region. Having the only platform mound for miles around, the Gatlin Site fostered a special ceremonial (and possibly political) presence within the surrounding social landscape. The Gatlin Site’s regional significance was probably economic as well as ceremonial. Situated at the Great Bend of the Gila River, the site was a waypoint on major trails leading east-to-west and north-to-south. These pathways provided the infrastructure to usher important trade items such as salt, shell, stone, and pottery great distances. As one of the villages closest to the Sea of Cortez, the Gatlin Site community played a key role in the Hohokam shell trade. Similarly, with its proximity to several sources of obsidian—a volcanic glass that yields incredibly sharp edges—the Gatlin Site community seemed to developed some sort of control over the acquisition and distribution of this important and desirable resource. From 1958 to 1960, archaeologists with the Arizona State Museum directed limited excavations at the Gatlin Site. Much of the field work was carried out by members of the Tohono O’odham Nation, some of whom were from the San Lucy District neighboring Gila Bend. The excavations focused on the platform mound, although additional areas of the site were probed and tested. These include both ballcourts, several trash mounds and pithouses,