Wilkinson Ranch Archaeology
In early March of 2020 Primitive Lifeways LLC conducted an archaeological investigation and survey at a large Prehistoric Prescott Culture site located in the premises of Wilkinson Ranch. Due to the lack of previous data recovery by professional Archaeologists, this site was not previously named. As we conduct work and future investigations into the Wilkinson Ranch settlement it is imperative that scholars, professionals, and field crews have a common referenced name for this site. Thus we will now refer to this prehistoric Prescott Culture settlement as Wilkinson Mound. The topography at the Wilkinson Mound site sits on top of a gradual sloped mesa top with a rocky hard packed surface in the center of the Granite Dells located in Prescott, Arizona.
A week after initial observation my field work began. Although my assumptions about the site being looted were partly correct, the damage was not nearly as bad as I originally thought—in fact the preservation at Wilkinson Mound is much better than the adjacent hilltop pueblos to the northwest. My first task was to identify the existing architecture and number of dwellings associated within the project area. After three full days of survey I discovered a total of five pit-house structures (features 1 – 5), six field houses (features 6 – 11), two trash middens (features 12 – 13), and one platform mound (feature 14). After visiting and working at many Prescott Culture sites, Wilkinson Mound is the first I have seen with what appears to be a centralized platform mound. In this article I will discuss the results and interpretations of the Wilkinson Mound site.
Material Technologies and Culture
Wilkinson Mound really defines the presence and attributes of the prehistoric Prescott Culture that occupied a large portion of Central Arizona 1,000 years ago. But who were the Prescott Culture and what did they call themselves? From 800 – 1300 AD. we find a remarkable group of people who conducted their lives in a similar way to the Hohokam, Sinagua, and Mogollon groups in Arizona. Although we do not know what the Prescott Culture called themselves, archaeology can piece together a puzzle using material remains that are left behind. Trash middens and burials reveal the Prescott Culture were master craftspeople in ceramics, and stone objects. While Prescott clays are not the highest quality and tend to be very sandy, their vessels are spectacular in shape and geometry. Furthermore, many Prescott gray ware jars and bowls are highly micaceous, fired in partial reduction, and decorated with a black organic pigment. Some oxidized black on orange jars suggest the design might have painted on after the vessel was fired. This hypothesis was formulated by Kiowa Sage and if correct, the paint was applied when the vessel was hot enough to burn off the paint and leave a black carbon stain behind.
While ceramic styles and designs are a clear indicator of cultural identity we must also factor in the practice of stone carving and trade. The Prescott Culture carved massive amounts of argillite and distributed it across Arizona. It is my belief that argillite was not merely used as a decorative; rather it was a sign of power and elite status while also serving as an economic currency. At the Sundown site in Williamson Valley we find a very high quantity of argillite objects that suggest the site was a major contributor in trade, production, and status. Burial 11 clearly represents elite status in grave goods. This 30-35 year old male was buried with high quantities of argillite consisting of beads, a pipe, disks, and unusual carved objects. Burial 22 is another example of importance. This burial carried a 9 month old baby where we discovered many argillite objects that could represent ascribed status or a sign of grief amongst a community.
After two weeks of survey and identification, thousands of ceramic sherds were flagged, identified, entered into a database for future research. Features 1, 2, and 5 carry a moderate amount of ceramics consisting of Aquarius Orange, Black-on-Gray, Granite Mountain Plain, and Tusayan White, and Red-on-Buff wares. Features 3 and 4 have a very low amount of associated ceramics consisting of Granite Mountain Plain and Prescott Back-on-Grey. At features 6, 7, and 8 a moderate amount of ceramics consisting of Granite Mountain Plain, and Prescott Black-on-Gray wares are present. Feature 9 consists of a high frequency of Granite Mountain Plain wares. Features 10 and 11 consists of Granite Mountain plain and Wingfield plain wares. Features 12 and 13 consist of a very high amount of ceramics including trade wares from the North and South. Feature 12 carries Aquarius Orange, Prescott Black-on-Gray, Granite Mountain Plain, Prescott White-on-Red, Tusayan White, Red-on Buff, Tusayan Corrugated, and Wingfield Plain wares. Feature 13 carries Black-on-Gray, Granite Mountain Plain, Tusayan White, and Aquarius Orange wares. Feature 14 seems to be the heaviest looted space in the area. Although the architecture is very well preserved, associated artifacts are quite low. However, the majority of the ceramics associated in feature 14 are decorated including Prescott Black-on-Gray and San Juan Red wares.
Chipped and Flaked Stone
Wilkinson Mound has high frequency of chipped and flaked stone in and around each feature. Features 12 and 13 seem to have the highest concentration and diversity of chipped and flaked stone. Both features are comprised of obsidian, butterscotch jasper (perkinsville jasper), basalt, chert, and chalcedony. On the northwest corner of feature 12, one 1.9 cm broken rhyolite projectile point was discovered. In the southwest area of feature 12 one 1.4 cm broken projectile point made of butterscotch jasper was located. In addition, close to the center of feature 12, a 2.2 cm thin broken basalt biface was discovered.
Features 6 – 10 carry a low amount of butterscotch jasper, chert and basalt. Because these features are in close proximity to modern and historic areas, it is likely they are looted of such lithic materials. Feature 11 has a higher frequency of flaked stone which consists of chert, basalt and jasper. Furthermore a 4.1 cm garden hoe fragment made of basalt was discovered 2.76 meters outside of the feature. Features 3 and 5 are comprised of butterscotch jasper, chalcedony, basalt. Because of looting, feature 1 seems to be free of debitage flakes of any kind and variety on the surface. Although some of the features contain flaked and chipped sone, the vast majority of these lithic materials seem to rest outside of the features.
Wilkinson Mound and its features carry a large quantity of argillite on the surface. All features (1-14) carry flakes of this brilliant red stone. Feature 13 has the heaviest concentration consisting of two broken disks, five drilled beads, and 11 flakes. Outside of feature 12, a larger 6cm core of argillite was located. This core did not exhibit signs of heavy use and was likely discarded after smaller flaked material was removed. By far one of the most fascinating objects found at Wilkinson Mound was located 3 meters away and to the northeast of feature 1. This object is a carved depiction of a scarlet macaw and measures 2.7cm long. Scarlet macaws are native to Mesoamerica (pre-Hispanic Mexico) and were likely traded through a network of cultures starting in East Mexico, then into a site called Paquime, and finally into Arizona. After years of examining trade routes in Arizona and Northern regions of Mexico, I have formulated a hypothesis stating Prescott Culture groups obtained macaws and other trade items from the Hohokam at open market places when ball games (similar to what was played in Mesoamerica) were conducted.
Ground stone at Wilkinson Mound seems be be less abundant compared to other sites in the area. This sacristy might derive from the looting that once took place at the site. Feature 1 has one broken metate tucked behind a wall that is still quite visible. Feature 12 consists of broken pieces of volcanic rock and sandstone. The volcanic stone was used as a Mano whereas the sandstone might have been used for crafting argillite jewelry. All other ground stone objects are scattered outside of the features and are comprised of granite, sandstone, and volcanic stone.
Site and Cultural Interpretations
Wilkinson Mound is one of the more unique archaeology sites in the Prescott area. The manifestation of a platform mound amongst prehistoric people across the globe and specifically in the American Southwest points to evidence of elite or religious status amongst an individual. Furthermore, the appearance of exotic macaws in the American Southwest also points to high ranking status held or obtained by an individual. At the current moment archaeology has yet to conduct large scale excavation at Wilkinson Mound. However with the discovery of a macaw effigy pendant, there is a strong possibility macaws were present at this site.
With the advancement of a sedentary society such as the Prescott Culture, civil structure was likely needed in order to keep people fed, working, and producing goods for economic progress and productivity. Indeed, we can compare the social status amongst the Prescott Culture similarly to the Hohokam region where we see a ranking system based upon achieved or born power. When presenting a hypothesis involving a power structure in prehistory it is important to distinguish the difference between raking and stratification. As mentioned previously, ranking consists of a person being born into or achieving power. Stratification is comprised of achieving power through force—we do not see stratification in Prescott or Hohokam territories.
Although pottery assemblages seem to be diverse at the Wilkinson Mound site, this is not uncommon for early Prescott Culture sites. Other hilltop and pithouse sites in the Prescott, Prescott Valley, Chino Valley, and Williamson Valley areas have trade wares from the same Northern and Southern regions of Arizona. Upon examining the data documented during surface investigations, there seems to be a lower frequency of traded Hohokam Red-on-Buff wares compared to Black-on-White ceramics from the Pueblo region. Indeed, this imbalance of frequency could be due to looting of surface materials. Although we have put time sequences on trade wares, it is important to note these dates are not used exclusively to date a site in which they are located at. Science in archaeology understands these wares could have been made much earlier and imported into a site at a later date. Thus it becomes critical to use additional dating methods in combination to ceramic sequences.
The date of the Wilkinson Mound site needs further exploration by using methods of data recovery and material analysis. One method we can use to give Wilkinson Mound an accurate date is radiocarbon dating. Assuming we find organic material remains such as burnt Maize or charcoal, this method can determine the age of organic objects by measuring the radioactivity of their carbon content. Based upon rock lined pithomes, the appearance of a platform mound, and ceramic iconography, I can determine this site was occupied during the early Chino Phase around 1050AD and could have been abandoned around 1300. This date also accounts for the presence of Hohokam interaction through pit house arrangement and red-on-buff pottery sequences
Site Under Threat. How to Get Involved.
Wilkinson Mound offers an exciting opportunity for locals to visit one of the most unique prehistoric sites in the Prescott area. Unfortunately, all features, artifacts and sub-features are at risk from high density development. Although Primitive Lifeways vales the importance of property rights, we also advocate in favor of archaeological preservation. If we lose these sites Prescott loses a massive piece of history that will never comeback. We will tell our grandchildren stories of the great structures that once stood the test of time before development took place. It is our goal to protect all features at Wilkinson Mound, but we need your help. We are asking elected officials in the city of Prescott to get involved by adding Wilkinson Mound to the negotiation table with Arizona Eco Development (AED). Please call each official and write them a letter expressing your concern. Let them know you want this site included in public space and preserved for future generations.
Like archaeological sites in Phoenix, there is income potential for the city of Prescott and AED. Most of the features at Wilkinson Mound are well preserved and can be turned into a monument with a museum exhibition. Old highway 89 runs very close to the site’s boundary line with a large space for parking access. From the parking space the mounds are just a short and easy walk away. Just like Pueblo Grande attracts thousands of visitors per month, we believe Wilkinson Mound can do the same, thus adding to the local economy while providing jobs to the public. Ancient sites offer a glimpse into early human history before any documented language emerged in North America. archaeology and the general public can learn a tremendous amount of information from the mysterious inhabitants known as the Prescott Culture. Contact elected officials by clicking each name on the website. Follow the link below.
By, Jeff Martin