‘A whole village:’ Ancient remains discovered during housing project in Phoenix

Valley activist is trying to keep the area preserved with an online petition entitled: “Let Our Ancestors Rest.”
Crews are finishing construction on the city’s latest affordable housing project, but beneath that lies an ancient O’odham village called “La Ciudad."
Published: Dec. 1, 2022 at 7:17 AM MST|Updated: Dec. 1, 2022 at 9:25 AM MST
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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) -- Artifacts, human remains, a whole village. Evidence of people here long before us were all found in an archeological site here in the Valley.

Now a local activist is on a mission to keep that area preserved and prevent new public housing from going. If she can’t accomplish that, she hopes to at least spread awareness for future tenants before they sign a lease.

Crews are finishing construction on the city’s latest affordable housing project: Harmony at the Park. It’s a mixed-income housing complete with 310 units. The development near I-10 and Van Buren is set to open in January. The city touts its modern look and energy-efficient appliances. A stark contrast to what was recently unearthed.

“I found out about this site through a friend who lives in the area,” said Marina Thomas. She’s an indigenous activist from the Salt River Pima Maricopa Indian Community.

“She told me that there was some construction going on across the street and that they had found human remains,” Thomas said.

Thomas did some digging of her own, so to speak, and found out her ancestors once had a thriving community here. An ancient O’odham village called “La Ciudad”. She shared drone video of what crews uncovered.

“You could see all the outlines of all the pit houses like so this entire section was just rows upon rows. It looked like a drawing almost,” she described.

City of Phoenix officials confirm this, saying construction halted temporarily while archeologists recovered human remains and artifacts. They told Arizona’s Family they repatriated items to the Salt River Pima Maricopa Indian Community. However, city officials could not give specifics on what was found citing an agreement with the tribes.

But not everything was recovered, Thomas was shocked when she learned some stuff was left behind.

“You can tell it’s pottery because it’s rounded out. It’s got a look that’s consistent with all the other pieces that you’ll see around here.”

She launched the online petition “Let our ancestors rest” last spring. Thomas called on the city to stop building. Nearly 43,000 others echoed her message to no avail.

“This hurts because I feel like we have an opportunity to learn a lot from the site,” she said.

“You know here in Phoenix, we’re on top of part of a cultural landscape. I like to call it, you know, there was thriving populations here for thousands of years and the location of the project is within one of the village sites that we’ve known about,” said Laurene Montero, the city’s archaeologist.

Montero said, “La Ciudad” has been known about since the 1800′s and that the city started talking to the neighboring tribes several years ago when talks of re-developing the site came into play.

“We have a agreement with them, you know, that outlines all the protocols that we’ll follow, and we’re in very frequent dialogue with them,” she said.

Montero showed Arizona’s Family a map on the wall at the Pueblo Grande Museum that depicts archaeological sites founds across the Valley. The museum sits on top of one of those sites as well. It’s findings are now preserved.

“In my heart, yes. I’d like to see them preserved,” Montero said. “What we do is try to preserve the places that we can like Pueblo Grande.”

As for whether future residents of Harmony at the Park know about the history of the land, Montero say the information is out there but will tell residents at the grand opening.

But Thomas worries that’ll be too late for residents and she feels it’s still a shame to see her ancestor’s history paved over.

“it just breaks my heart because these are my family. I’m here because my ancestors were here. I just feel like my hands are behind my back with it like there’s not really much I could do about it,” Thomas said.

The apartment is expected to be open in January. Arizona’s Family reached out to the impacted tribes about this. A spokesperson said they’d be making no comment do the sensitive nature of the site and the ongoing process.