Prehistoric Agricultural Fields and Water Management Technology of the Safford Valley, Southeastern Arizona. (News & Notes)

By Neely, James A. | Antiquity, December 2001 | Go to article overview

Prehistoric Agricultural Fields and Water Management Technology of the Safford Valley, Southeastern Arizona. (News & Notes)


Neely, James A., Antiquity


On-going archaeological survey in the Safford Valley of southeastern Arizona has revealed an extensive, well-preserved complex of prehistoric agricultural fields and water management features exhibiting sophisticated technological accomplishments (Neely & Doolittle 1996; Neely 1997; Neely & Crary 1998). A broad and varied array of these features and systems, dating between c. AD 800-1400, borders the Gila River and extends south into the foothills of the Pinaleno Mountains. These features may be generally considered in four 4 major categories.

Dry-farming fields comprise the first major category of features. Recognition of dry-farming fields is based on the linear placement of habitation sites, as well as the presence of specific artefact types and water-management features (e.g. linear borders, check-dams and terracing walls). `Gardens' are often found in association with habitation sites. They may have served for the cultivation of herbs, or as seedbeds from which seedlings could be transplanted. The most spectacular of the dry-farmed field systems is a large (approximately 477,000 sq. m/0.48 sq. km) area of rock-bordered grids, interpreted by Doolittle & Neely (1998) to be fields for the cultivation of Maguey (Agave spp.).

Newly recognized stone tool types have been found in dry-farmed and irrigated relic field areas. Their distribution has permitted the identification of field areas, as well as rough estimates as to field shape and size.

The second major category of features consists of irrigated fields; recognized by canals entering their boundaries. `Unimproved' fields are areas cleared of rocks, but showing no other modifications. `Improved' fields have at least one rock border or terrace wall forming their downslope extreme. `Gardens', present as small, rock-outlined areas, comprise the third kind of irrigated field. Sluice gates, `splash pads' and unique canal-end garden areas have been recorded as integral parts of these systems. Controlled amounts of water could be turned out through small sluice gates in the canal or ditch walls into smaller ditches, directly into field areas and into small rock-bordered `pools' or gardens.

A third category of features is composed of systems of small earthen and rock-bordered canals taking water from natural springs and precipitation runoff to rock-faced terraced fields. Seven such systems have been discovered descending from the foothills of the Pinaleno Mountains. …

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