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Former cemetery site offers glimpse into past

PHOENIX — Construction is under way on a new Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office headquarters at a Phoenix site that once was a cemetery.

The county is building a $92-million, five-story sheriff’s headquarters at Sixth Avenue and Jefferson Street. Maricopa County spokeswoman Cari Gerchick said workers preparing the site had a surprise in April — they uncovered part of an old graveyard with 15 burial pits.

“Of those 15 burial pits that indicated that coffins had been in them, we actually found the partial remains of 10 coffins,” said Gerchick. “We found partial skeletal remains of eight people, including five adults and three children. We found no full skeletons.”

Also found in the cemetery was a woman’s hair clip that dates to the 1800s and a handle from a casket.

Gerchick said it’s not known what kind of metal the handle was make of, but archaeologists believe the handle indicates that the casket was expensive, and that whoever was buried in it had been wealthy.

“The remains of the coffins, the remains of the bones, and the few personal artifacts were turned over to our archaeological firm so that they can do the proper studies and work with the Arizona State Museum to determine the eventual resting place of the bones,” said Gerchick.

Archaeologists should finish their examinations in about five months.