We stand 15 feet apart from one another until we form a long line that stretches through dry grass and around mesquite shrubs, and then we start walking through the scrubby Arizona desert under a midday sun, our eyes scanning the ground. Chris Reed, a Phoenix native who has done this before, calls out when he finds a circle of stones embedded in the earth, and the line breaks as all 14 of us cluster around for the official word.
"Very odd," says J. Scott Wood, chief archaeologist for the Tonto National Forest. "Record it as a feature." After scraping in the dirt for a while and lighting a cigar, Wood leans against his cane and begins to muse: it's a little big to be a storage pit, about right for a granary, but there is no compressed dirt floor. The Hohokam, Salado and other peoples who lived here between 850 and the late 1200s or so didn't use stone slabs as floors, he says, but still, the ground should be compacted. In this way, on an October day that reaches upward of 90 degrees Fahrenheit, an unusual weeklong field season begins.
This article was originally published with the title Passport in Time.