U.S.-Mexico Archaeologists Unearth Sonora Desert’s Past… And Present

By Rodrigo Cervantes
Published: Monday, April 9, 2018 - 5:00am
Updated: Monday, April 9, 2018 - 5:05am

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MEXICO CITY - Mexican and American researchers are exploring ancient archaeological sites in Mexico, near the Sonora-Arizona border. Their studies might bring more light not only to the region’s past… but also to the present indigenous communities.

The border has been an obstacle to unify archaeological studies from both sides of the border. Arizona’s sites have been largely studied, but the Sonoran ones have gained less attention as archaeology has focused more on Central-South Mexico.

But a bilanational group of researchers at Valle de Altar, in Mexico, want to integrate knowledge. They come from the National Institute of Anthropology and History of Mexico (INAH) and the University of Binhamton.

“I guess the first thing to say is that the U.S.-Mexico border, needless to say, has no significance for pre-Hispanic cultural development on what is now Sonora and Arizona because of course it didn’t exist. It has, however, had a very dramatic impact on archeology and how archeology is done,” explained Randall McGuire, a distinguished professor from Binhamton who leads the team of archaeologists along with Mexican researcher Elisa Villalpando.

(Photo courtesy of Randall McGuire)
Archaeologists from the U.S. and Mexico explore several ancient sites near the Arizona-Sonora border.

The team is trying to learn more from a little-known period of the Trincheras culture.

“It’s more what’s between the beginning and the end,” McGuire said.

Their investigation focuses on the eight and and the fourteenth centuries. Their studies will help understand the consolidation of ancient settlements.

“We are trying to get information and data necessary for going to understand aboriginal process on a continental scale in North America,” said the archaeologist.

But their studies may also help solve another present-day issue.  

“The border was drawn through the Tohono ‘Odham people,” McGuire said. “We can demonstrate and validate with archaeology their presence in the region.”

According to McGuire, their findings could demonstrate the ancestry of the Tohono ‘Odham in Mexico, reasserting their rights as a local indigenous group.

As for today, the INAH team is doing lab analysis of the artifacts found in the sites, while the Binhamton team works on 3D mapping of the excavations.

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