Eighth Street project in Tempe to move forward after archaeological site discovered

Oct 6, 2023, 4:35 AM

PHOENIX — A Tempe street improvement project is back on track after operations were paused for several years following the discovery of a 1,200-year-old Native American site in the construction area.

Work on the Eighth Street Streetscape Project was expected to begin in 2019, but it was put on hold after the significant prehistoric archaeological discovery was made.

The city announced Tuesday it was renewing efforts to make improvements for bicyclists and pedestrians on Eighth Street between Rural Road and McClintock Drive. 

underground structure unearthed by team of archaeologists workers at Native American site in Tempe workers at Native American site in Tempe area of Native American site excavation in Tempe

What was discovered at the Native American site in Tempe?

Archaeological excavations were conducted along Eighth Street in 2018 and 2020.

The most significant find was a village that had been inhabited by O’odham Native Americans from at least 850 AD to 1450 AD, according to the Eighth Street Archaeological Report.

An investigation into the site revealed residents lived in homes with plaster floors, traded storable food products such as agave hearts, and farmed cotton, squash and maize.

It also uncovered evidence residents maintained a turnout canal that irrigated the field to the north with Salt River water that was delivered through 3.5 miles of main stem canal.

“We excavated a number of trenches, about 24 of them I believe, but the structure behind me was a standout feature, not only because of its size but because of its rarity,” archaeologist Travis Cureton said in a city of Tempe video while standing in front of an underground building.

“This structure here is a once-in-a-career opportunity.”

Cureton said the last time a similar structure was excavated was more than 100 years ago.

Tempe historian John Southard said the find is of terrific importance to the Four Southern Tribes of Arizona and the archaeological community.

“It’s something that because of its location really speaks to why Tempe is here today,” Southard said in the video.

“Prior to the construction of the Roosevelt Dam, high ground was dry ground, so this was an area that prehistorically was desirable.”

Here’s how Tempe plans to incorporate the site into the project

The Eighth Street Streetscape project was designed to serve all road users, and may include restructured on-street parking and a proposed multi-use path with landscape and lighting.

City officials have been communicating with the Four Southern Tribes of Arizona to come up with a way to preserve, respect and celebrate the discovery of the standout underground structure.

“What we want to do is cover it up so that we can protect it, but hopefully the final design for the multi-use path will incorporate this structure into its design so that the public can come to this place and know that there was a large structure here and learn about its importance in the past but also to the O’odham and also to the population of Arizona as a whole,” Southard said.

Construction on the project is expected to begin in fall 2024.

Community members are invited to attend public meetings to view the redesigned streetscape plan and give feedback Oct. 18 at noon on Zoom and in person at 6 p.m. at the EnVision Center, 1310 E. Apache Blvd.

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Eighth Street project in Tempe to move forward after archaeological site discovered