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Ruins of Fortress and House with 250 Rooms on “Mountain of Horned Toad” Found to Surprise of Scientists
The following is the substance of an address delivered by Robert F. Gilder, archeologist of the University of Nebraska in Omaha telling of the ancient fortress on the Desert Laboratory hill just west of Tucson.The title of the address is: “The Mountain of the Horned Toad.”
“Among the many wonders of southern Arizona there is none more astonishing than Mount Tumomoc [sic], at the western edge of the ancient city of Tucson, and as its history is buried in a remote past such facts as have been brought to light can be regarded as a beginning of the process of unraveling the mass of evidence tending to prove that the mountain and its environment was once the center of an ancient civilization, just as no doubt attached to Casa Grande in olden days.
Tumomoc in the Papago tongue means horned toad, hence the Indians call the eminence the “Mountain of the Horned Toad,” and that very name is one of the proofs that the present aboriginal inhabitants of the surrounding desert know little or nothing of a people who lived on and about the mountain in the remote period when the present remains of their pueblos and fortifications were new.
Looking at the mountain from the northwest the summit is shown as a straight line, a line too even to be a natural formation and in reality a wall made by the people who built a pueblo upon the summit of about 250 separate rooms for the protection of their homes against the attacks of some foe equally unknown.
Upon all sides of the mountain where it is possible to reach the summit without scaling a perpendicular wall there are three well-constructed lines of fortifications. These are not in a straight line surrounding the mountain, but are laid out with a knowledge of the military value of the salient and they zigzag around, offering to those on the inside of the fort the opportunity of an enfilading fire against an attack foe.
A series of bumps when seen from below give the mountain its name. These bumps or elevations are most noticeable at the north-west corner of the mountain and no doubt conveyed to the primitive mind of the Indian an idea of their similarity to the bumps upon the anatomy of the horned toad. These elevations are lookouts nearly circular in shape with walls slightly higher than other portions of the wall of which they are a part.
All three forts today are in ruins and appear as long lines or rounded stones covering a ground space of about fifteen to twenty feet and generally are about four to five feet thick or deep. The stones are usually about the size of a bushel measure, but there are many smaller stones that evidently fit into spaces between the larger stones. Some of these forts are several thousand feet long, and the work of construction must have taken a long time in years or else a vast army of workmen.
Mortars in Rocks.
The summit of Tumomoc is about 4,000 feet above the surrounding desert and the area is possibly three acres. Today the lower courses of stone are all that remain of the ancient pueblo. The rooms vary in size, but are in the main 10×15 feet inside dimensions and are connected, that is, the wall of one, is the wall of those surrounding on all sides but one. The houses were probably one-room affairs and were erected about a central plaza, streets radiating from the central point like the spokes of a wheel. What appears to have been a large reservoir is also discernable and about thirty mortars for grinding corn have been made in some of the larger rocks.
From the summit the view of the surrounding desert for miles in every direction excepting to the southeast is unimpaired and one can see mountain peaks sixty miles off very distinctly.
Three thousand feet below the summit, located on a considerable shelf or elevated plateau are the group of buildings of the Carnegie desert laboratory and between the summit and the buildings, a small group of rooms can be traced and pottery and flint chips were obtained there.
At various elevations are groups of pictographs cut into the volcanic rock of which the mountain is composed. Near the summit is a large groups of pictures one of which seems as if it might have been intended for a ground plan of the summit pueblo, nothing exactly like it having come to the attention of the writer heretofore.
On the northwest side where the slope is particularly steep, I had noticed at a distance of a couple of miles what appeared to be a paved roadway leading toward the mountain top and realizing that it could not be a paved road I followed a wagon track which wound about toward the stonework until I came to the lower side and was able to examine what had excited my curiosity closely.
Measurements showed the stonework to be 120 feet wide and about 600 feet long and even a casual investigation showed the remains of walls and I came to the conclusion then, and afterward had a confirmation of it, that the stonework was the ruin of a collection of small one-room stone houses that had been built upon the sloping side of the mountain, one above the other like stone steps.
Discovery Commented On.
The few remaining walls were of large interest. They were built of stones over a foot in diameter from the mountain-sides and adjacent desert close to the foot of the mountain. In the crevices between the large stones, smaller stones had been inserted until quite a compact wall had been formed. I also noticed that slow growing lichens had grown over the walls sometimes covering several stones.
I afterward visited the ruined pueblo with Prof. Byron Cummings, head of the department of archeology, University of Arizona, who agreed that I had discovered a remarkable ruin.
Dr. Cummings stated that the ruins had not been heretofore discovered as ruins, meaning that whoever used the volcanic boulders for building purposes had no knowledge that the stones were once walls of an ancient stone structure of over 100 rooms.
Just why the pueblo had been so placed on a site so difficult of access, can only be conjectured.
To the north of the mountain stretch away the foothills of the Tucson range of saw-toothed crags and pinnacles and the never-ending stretches of arid cactus-covered land through which the Rio del Santa Cruz runs when there is water in its bed, which is seldom nowadays. Along the river wherever water can be secured are some of the richest lands imaginable and it was the presence of these lands, capable of irrigation, which had drawn the people who lived upon the mountain to that part of the world.
This may be called a theory, but facts concerning other localities where extensive farming was carried on by a prehistoric people, remove elements of conjecture and establish the fact in bold characters.
At the base of Tumamoc, one today finds a number of small hillocks which experience told me covered the ruins of ancient pueblos and houses. Arroyos have cut through the desert here and the sides of the streams to a depth of five feet are thickly studded with pottery fragments and village refuse. The industrious badger with claws over three inches in length seems to delight in confining his burrowing activities to these hillocks with the result of placing under the eyes of the explorer all sorts of objects used by the ancients who occupied the houses covered by the desert winds and mountain torrents.
Find Prehistoric Pottery.
Every archeologist takes advantage of the badger’s industry and shell bracelets, turquois beads and a great variety of other material is secured in looking over the dirt thrown out by badgers. Mortars and mutates weighing ten or more pounds are thrown out by badgers, and it was their work, in fact, which led me to excavate one of the hillocks.
Prof. Cummings was my digging companion on one occasion. That day we went down three feet and found a very fine specimen of decorated and glazed prehistoric pottery. Announcement of the positive existence of glazed pottery in the valley of the Santa Cruz River is here made for the first time. It had been previously reported that specimens of glazed pottery had been found farther north in Arizona, but confirmation of such discoveries had not been made in the knowledge of Dr. Cummings or myself.
Other Discoveries Made.
The same day in a nearby section of an arroyo our expedition discovered three complete pieces of rare aboriginal pottery. One was an olia of about thirty quarts measurement, another was a finely made bowl, while the third, covered with a calcerious accretion when found, proved to be a mortuary urn, vermillion in color, decorated externally with an unique scroll and triangle in green and black nearly an inch wide.
Returning the following day at the place Dr. Cummings and I had found the glazed pottery, further excavation disclosed the side of a partly ruined adobe wall. I followed the wall down, and at about five and a half feet struck the floor which my spade penetrated. Beneath the floor reposed the skeleton of a human being. The long bones had been placed together, and at one side was the skull. The bones were exceedingly fragile, and did not last on exposure to the air, but the skull was removed entirely and proved to be of a long-headed type, while the desert Indians today are a round-headed people. This skull and the strange pots and olias found nearby are the only things of their kind ever found in Arizona or elsewhere, and they are now among the valued acquisitions of the great archeological museum in the University of Arizona.
It might be stated that other strange shapes and styles of pottery discovered in the ruined pueblo—at the foot of Mount Tumamoc are also in the Arizona museum.
It must not be supposed that no other pottery has been found in that part of Arizona. The fact is, the whole state is filled with most wonderful evidences of a vast and ancient population, but the Mount Tumamoc skull and pottery show an entirely different method of construction and embellishment when compared with other specimens from Tucson or any other section of the state.”
ARIZONA STAR, FEBRUARY 23, 1919
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