‘A whole village’ of ancient remains discovered during housing project construction

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 2:55 PM EST
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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5/Gray News) -- Crews working on a housing project in Arizona have made a remarkable discovery: artifacts, human remains and a whole village.

Construction is being finished on the city of Phoenix’s latest affordable housing project. Harmony at the Park is mixed-income housing with 310 units. The city touts its modern look and energy-efficient appliances, which are a stark contrast to the unearthed village.

An indigenous activist is now on a mission to keep the excavated area preserved and prevent new public housing from going up. If Marina Thomas can’t accomplish that, she hopes to at least spread awareness for future tenants before they sign a lease.

“I found out about this site through a friend who lives in the area,” she told AZFamily. “She told me that there was some construction going on across the street and that they had found human remains.”

Thomas did some digging of her own, so to speak, and found out her ancestors once had a thriving community at the site. The ancient O’odham village was called “La Ciudad.”

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

City of Phoenix officials said construction halted temporarily while archeologists recovered the human remains and artifacts. They told AZFamily 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.

Not everything was recovered, however. Thomas was shocked when she learned some stuff was left behind.

“You can tell it’s pottery because it’s rounded out,” she said. “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.

The city’s archaeologist said Phoenix is 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,” she said.

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

“We have a private 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 references a map on the wall at the Pueblo Grande Museum depicting archaeological sites found across the valley. The museum sits on top of one of those sites as well. Its 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 said the information is out there but will tell residents at the grand opening.

Thomas worries that it will be too late for residents and she said it’s a shame to see her ancestor’s history paved over.

“It just breaks my heart because these are my family,” she said. “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.”

AZFamily reached out to the impacted tribes about the situation. A spokesperson said they’d be making no comment due to the sensitive nature of the site and the ongoing process.

The apartment complex is expected to open in January.