Excavators Delicately Probe Arizona's Past
By Bill Tippett
Suppose you asked an excavator what superpower they'd like to have; it would probably be X-ray vision. Projects are most commonly delayed by unknown and variable factors that we can't see buried in the ground. Usually, these are the conditions nature has provided, but sometimes it's the buried treasures and trash of the past.
At my company, Networx Cabling Systems, we've dug up a fair amount of trash, mostly from previous construction jobs. We've also encountered buried cars and animal carcasses but never any treasure. Over the past 30 years working in Arizona, I've fantasized about finding a conquistador's sword or helmet, which are rumored to have been uncovered in the Verde Valley. I now doubt the story, but still, keep looking anyway.
Most major cities are built atop the ruins of previous civilizations, which were often buried with little concern for their value or future historical significance. At the time, these items were just considered waste and debris, even though some have incredible beauty and value.
The Valley is no exception to this trend, as the Hohokam previously inhabited the area. Other Native American tribes were also later attracted by the Salt and Gila rivers. Phoenix's name recognizes that the city was built atop and partially re-used the abandoned ruins of a former civilization. Shifting sands, washes, and riverbeds buried much of the Hohokam's remnants.
Discretion should be used when encountering items from these ancient civilizations buried under Phoenix. Protect these culturally significant areas by keeping their locations secret. If discovered, contact local historical and archaeological preservation societies for guidance on how to handle the site.
There are also other more recent relics to be found beneath Phoenix. Building the Valley Metro Light Rail unearthed construction debris, old trolley tracks on Van Buren, and layers of concrete and asphalt more than two feet thick on some of the city's oldest roads. In Scottsdale, excavators discovered old wooden water mains. One associate found a buried oil tanker, installed around 1948, which represented a potential danger. Before its discovery, he was standing atop the tank, which could have collapsed.
Projects in Flagstaff can be incredibly exciting. Every time we lose pressure and flow on a job there, I worry we've bored into one of the old abandoned tunnels underneath downtown. Most likely, it's just a large void in the basalt or a lava tube, but we still look around nervously for any signs of a frac-out in unexpected places.
I've always done my best to restore the earth to its previous condition and leave no trace, trash, or otherwise. "We must value what's in the ground and protect everything we can by all means possible," Arvid Veidmark III, owner of Specialized Services Company, recently told me. "This also includes what we're putting in the ground and covering up. We must be good stewards for the future."
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This article originally appeared in the bimonthly Arizona Contractor & Community magazine, Jan/Feb 2021 issue, Vol. 10, No. 1.