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Possible state park closure worries UA archaeologists

By Sean McLachlan
Arizona Daily Wildcat
January 28, 1999
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Jennifer Holmes
Arizona Daily Wildcat

Graduate student Vince LaMotta displays pottery remains from Homol'ovi State Park, a ancient Hopi village. The 1999 proposed state budget has plans to take the park out of state protection, which archaeologists fear will increase its chance for vandalism.

A UA archaeologist has spent the last 13 summers meticulously recording and preserving four vast prehistoric pueblos near Winslow, Arizona.

But his work may come to nothing if the Arizona Joint Legislative Budget Committee has their way.

Dr. E. Charles Adams, Curator of Archaeology at the Arizona State Museum, is worried by the committee's recommendation that Homolovi Ruins State Park be closed.

"The park was created to preserve archaeological resources - it's the only one in the state," he said.

Homolovi, which became a protected public park in 1993, includes ancient adobe structures built by the ancestors of the modern Hopi. McFarland State Historic Park, a historic building in Florence, has also been slated for closing.

At its height, Homolovi was home to up to 2,500 people, a number not exceeded in the area until this century. The site has four large pueblos, tight clusters of houses and storerooms built between 1260 and 1400 AD.

Adams said he is worried that if the Homolovi ruins are not protected by the Park Service, they will fall prey to vandalism. He pointed to the nearby "Jackrabbit" pueblo which, while on state land, has no staff to protect it.

Pothunters have dug numerous pits and trenches into the Jackrabbit ruins in search of native artifacts to sell on the black market. Such activity is illegal in Arizona and carries stiff penalties, but there have been few convictions.

"We're concerned whether it (Jackrabbit pueblo) will even be there in five years," said Adams.

Many modern Hopi trace their ancestry to Homolovi. Detailed oral histories record the life of the pueblo peoples. A dozen clans descended from the pueblo builders still maintain shrines on the premises.

Adams has found artifacts such as pottery and copper bells at the site from as far away as Mexico, indicating the ancient inhabitants forged extensive trade routes.

Adams isn't the only archaeologist worried about the budget committee's recommendations. Vince Lamotta, a University of Arizona graduate student, works at Homolovi every summer. His dissertation will be on the religious organization of the pueblos.

"We really don't know at this point, but if the park closes down there's a good chance we won't be able to work this summer," said Lamotta, adding that he had counted on using information gathered this summer for his research. Not getting the information would be "a real blow," he said.

Both archaeologists are worried that the paved roads leading up to the Homolovi ruins will be used as a highway for pothunters. Until the creation of the park, pothunters dug at the site with backhoes, opening up burials and breaking through adobe walls in search of salable pots and arrowheads. The destruction got so serious that then Governor Bruce Babbitt intervened.

"He knew Homolovi, he knew the area, and he was very concerned these sites were being pothunted out of existence." says Adams.

Paved roads, a parking lot, interpretive signs, and a visitor center were built at the cost of $6.5 million. In fiscal year 1998, more than 26,000 visitors came to the protected pueblos.

Despite the growing number of visitors each year, the park has not been able to support itself. The budget committee estimates operating costs for the next fiscal year at nearly $228,000, while entry fees will generate only about $42,000.

Costs include operation and maintenance of the visitor's center and salaries for the four park rangers who work at the ruins. Homolovi and the McFarland house have the lowest annual number of visitors of all Arizona state parks and the highest cost per visitor to keep open.

While Governor Hull's proposed budget includes funds for the parks, the Joint Legislative Budget Committee recommends the closure of the two parks, adding $305,000 to the general fund. The Legislature will vote on the two budgets on Feb. 5th.