AAHS is seeking applications for a newly created Kiva Publication and Social Media Internship for Fall 2024. For details go to the Kiva page under the Publications Menu.


The AAHS “Rock Band” at work on Cocoraque Ranch butte.

The data collection phase of this project is now completed. For a good general description of the project check out.

This volunteer effort seeks to record all petroglyphs, along with both grinding features and surface artifacts found in proximity to the glyphs, at the BLM’s public Cocoraque Butte site and the adjacent private Cocoraque Ranch site. The Project has been underway since January 2014 under sponsorship of BLM, with AAHS sponsorship beginning in December 2014. About 15 volunteers from the AAHS membership have been recruited and trained yearly to assist with data collection, photographs, and drawings.

Project Status

Work was completed on the public BLM portion of the site in March 2015. To satisfy our agreement with the Bureau of Land Management, the GPS locations and photographs of the 1,888 petroglyphs, 82 bell rocks, 69 grinding features, and 34 associated surface artifacts were provided the Bureau of Land Management’s archaeologist, on August 25, 2015.

The primary purpose was to test the hypothesis that Flower World imagery would be present at Cocoraque Butte, similar to what we found previously at Sutherland Wash. In conformance with the predictions of this hypothesis, at Cocoraque we found the range of imagery characteristic of the Flower World Complex as defined by Hays-Gilpin and Hill (1999). On a percentage basis, the incidence is actually slightly higher than at Sutherland Wash and suggests that Flower World may have been a component of the belief system of the Hohokam in the Tucson area rather than being unique to Sutherland Wash.

The sound produced by each of the 82 bell rocks was recorded in digital audio format and subjected to spectral analysis producing FFT plots that show the frequencies which correspond to the perceived pitch. Each bell rock produces a specific pitch with the various pitches ranging across approximately two and a half octaves. We found bell rocks are often in fairly close proximity to each another making it possible for a group of individuals to produce multi-tonal sound patterns, that is to say, music.

Initial analysis of the results of our work on the BLM portion of the site in reference to the Flower World imagery was recently published in American Indian Rock Art (American Indian Rock Art, Volume 42. Ken Hedges, Editor. American Rock Art Research Association, 2016, pp. 91–105.) We are currently focused on analyzing other aspects of the petroglyph information as well as analyzing and understanding the bell rock data. A recently published piece in The Desert Leaf Desert Leaf 33(1) 2019 focuses on the bell rock research.

Cocoraque Ranch Site

Early in 2015, an opportunity arose to also record the portion of the site on the adjoining private Cocoraque Ranch. The Ranch includes a water source and hosts not only the oldest part of the site but also a densely and repeatedly used petroglyph site dating from archaic times through Classic Hohokam. It continued to be used probably by European and Native people up until the present. The Board gave permission to expand the project to include the portion of the site on private land in May 2015.

The recording phase of this portion of Cocoraque has also been completed as of spring 2018.

In the course of the project we recorded more that 11,200 glyphs making this the largest recorded site in Southern Arizona. Additionally, we found over 120 bell rocks, recording them using techniques not previously utilized in this field.

Clovis projectile point recovered from the Sayles' Locality at Desperation Ranch. Courtesy of Arizona State Museum
Clovis projectile point recovered from the Sayles’ Locality at Desperation Ranch. Courtesy of Arizona State Museum

The first results are in from this project which was recently highlighted in Western Digs.

In partnership with the Friends of Cave Creek Canyon, archaeologists from Coronado National Forest, and the Argonaut Archaeological Fund (University of Arizona), the Arizona Archaeological and Historical Society is undertaking an exciting project to renew investigations at the Cave Creek Midden site (Gila Pueblo Chiricahua 3:16).  Located along Cave Creek, near the town of Portal, Arizona the property was formerly named Desperation Ranch. Although this site received only limited study by the Gila Pueblo Archaeological Foundation, it became the reference site for a long interval of prehistory in the American Southwest-the middle period of the Cochise Culture. Reinvestigation of Desperation Ranch will address several timely questions and is expected to yield significant new information about a landmark site in American archaeology.

Work was done by AAHS and collaborators over several weekends in the fall of 2014 and continued in March 2015. AAHS has committed research funds towards this project and a substantial donation has been made by Rene and Tony Donaldson. The ASM agreed to waive curation fees, and some analysis and backhoe operation was donated by others.

Additional donations are being sought to cover the analysis of radiocarbon, pollen, and stable isotope samples.


Few projects can promise to make substantial contributions to our knowledge of prehistory more so than reinvestigations of those select few sites that steered the earliest concepts about it. Not since 1936 have archaeologists explored the archaeological sequence at Cave Creek Midden, the site that defined the Middle Archaic Chiricahua Stage of the Cochise Culture in the American Southwest (Sayles and Antevs 1941). The Middle Archaic is amongst the least understood and vitally important time periods in the prehistory of the American Southwest (Dean 1987; Huckell 1984; Mabry and Stevens 2013). This is so because it encompasses the apparent human recolonization of the desert borderlands underway by 4000 B.C., followed by the introduction of agriculture (maize) no later than about 2100 B.C. (Merrill et al. 2009), developments that set the stage for different forms of sedentism and village societies in southwestern North America. Archaeological, radiocarbon, and stratigraphic information from Desperation Ranch will provide important new information about the cultural, technological, and paleoenvironmental conditions that accompanied those developments. Interviews with the landowner and a preliminary archaeological survey of the property have identified the precise location of Gila Pueblo’s 1936 excavations. An important aspect of renewed investigations at the site will be to synthesize and publish historical documents, made available by ASM, accompanied by new information.


The archaeology of the Middle Archaic period is famously poor. Throughout the Southwest, sites containing deposits of that age are simply rare, and few have been systematically studied. The prospect of reevaluating the Chiricahua Stage type site stimulates a number of questions. The research questions to be addressed by renewed explorations at Desperation Ranch include:

  1. What is the area, sequence, character, age, and completeness of archaeological deposits at the site;
  2. Does pre 2100 B.C. evidence of maize exist at the site;
  3. How do the stratigraphy, pollens, and fauna inform us about paleoenvironments at the site;
  4. Do older (early Archaic or Paleoindian) cultural or paleoenvironmental deposits exist at the site?

The AAHS Board has appointed Jesse Ballenger (Statistical Research, Inc.) and Jonathan Mabry (Historical Preservation Office, City of Tucson) as Co-directors of the project. The Board retains oversight of the project.


Dean, Jeffrey S.
1987 The Archaic of Southern Arizona. Quarterly Review of Archaeology 8(4):1, 10-14.

Huckell, Bruce B.
1984 The Archaic Occupation of the Rosemont Area, Northern Santa Rita Mountains, Southeastern Arizona. Archaeological Series No. 147(1). Arizona State Museum, University of Arizona, Tucson.

Mabry, Jonathan, and Michelle N. Stevens
2013 Beyond the Cochise Culture: New Views of Archaic Foragers and Early Farmers in Southeastern Arizona. In Between Mimbres and Hohokam: Exploring the Archaeology and History of Southeastern Arizona and Southwestern New Mexico, edited by Henry D. Wallace. Anthropological Papers No. 52, Archaeology Southwest, Tucson, Arizona.

Meltzer, David J.
2006  Folsom: New Archaeological Investigations of a Classic Paleoindian Bison Kill. University of California Press, Berkeley and Los Angeles, California.

Merrill, William L., Robert J. Hard, Jonathan B. Mabry, Gayle J. Fritz, Karen R. Adams, John R. Roney, and A. C. MacWilliams
2009 The Diffusion of Maize into the Southwestern United States and Its Impact. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science 106:21019-21026.

Sales, Edwin B. and Ernst V. Antevs
1941 The Cochise Culture. Medallion Papers No. 29, Gila Pueblo, Globe, Arizona.

Waters, Michael R.
1986 The Geoarchaeology of Whitewater Draw, Arizona. Anthropological Papers No. 45. University of Arizona Press, Tucson.

Wills, W. H.
1988 Early prehistoric agriculture in the American Southwest. School of American Research Press, Santa Fe, New Mexico.

1936 Gila Pueblo Excavation
1936 Gila Pueblo Excavation
Fort Mason Sign at Calabazas - 1926
Fort Mason Sign at Calabazas – 1926

On August 21, 1865 a garrison of California Volunteer Infantry and Cavalry established the site of Fort Mason under command of Colonel Charles W. Lewis. The fort was established below the Spanish Colonial Mission site of Calabazas close to the present day International Wastewater Treatment Plant in Rio Rico, on the Upper Santa Cruz River 8 miles from the Mexican border. Fort Mason was established to conduct operations against Apaches, monitor the French secessionists, protect mail and transportation routes, and patrol the border area against Mexican imperialists and the Confederate Army. The old mission church ruins of Calabazas, which are now part of Tumacacori National Historical Park, were reused as the officers quarters for Fort Mason. Although the history of Fort Mason is mentioned in a few local histories and by scholars of California military history the full story of this short lived military outpost remains untold.

Fort Mason was never finished and the fort was moved to Fort Buchanan at the headwaters of Sonoita Creek in 1866. The cavalry at Fort Mason included the California Native Cavalry lancers, the last of their kind who came to AZ looking to serve their country and to prospect for land and new beginnings. The Fort consisted of a tent camp, barracks buildings, hospital, some adobe quarters, corrals that were never finished. Almost forty soldiers died from “malarious fever,” most of who are now buried at the San Francisco National Cemetery.

The archaeological site of Fort Mason and the earlier Camp Moore (1856-57) are located on private property owned by Rio Rico Properties. The site was excavated by faculty and students of Defiance College, Ohio, from the early 1970s through mid-1980s. The collections were never analyzed and there is not final report on the results of the investigations. Rio Rico Properties has deeded the artifacts and archives to the Arizona State Museum. With help from the Arizona State Museum AAHS arranged for the transport of these materials back to the Arizona State Museum. Volunteers, under the leadership of Homer Thiel, are currently currently preparing the 88 boxes of materials for analysis and curation. The goal to is to finally tell the full story of Fort Mason, and of those who were there during a particularly turbulent time in southern Arizona’s history.

This acquisition is significant, both because of its obvious historical relevance to southern Arizona and its research value as a “snapshot in time” of military life in the Arizona Territory. We anticipate that the outcome in addition to proper curation of the collection, will be a final report and publication on the Defiance College excavations, and a temporary exhibit at the Arizona State Museum.

Please donate and help support the acquisition and study of this important collection! Help bring this snapshot of Arizona history to life by donating to this exciting project.

Donate to the Fort Mason Campaign

Katherine Cerino. We are currently working at ASM on Tuesdsay and Thursday afternoons from 1:0o to 4:00.