ANCIENT CHAMBERS SPAN ACROSS BENEATH NORTHERN ARIZONA
New Orleans (AP) — Three young archaelogists came to Northern
Arizona and crept through sacred rooms, over rocky precipes and by
dangerous rattlesnakes to discover a huge complex of catagombs that
could rewrite theories about the Indians of the southwestern United
“It’s absolutely mind-numbing. We would have never believed it could
have existed,” John W. Hohman, one of the three archaeologists, said
Friday during the meeting of the 2,000 member Society of American
Archaeology. “It will change a lot of what we believed about Indians
in the Southwest. They may have been far more advanced than we
Hohman admitted to feeling a bit like Indiana Jones, the
archaeologists-adventurer from the movies. Armed with a flashlight
and a pistol, it was Hohman who rapelled down the steep fissures,
frequently dotted with rattlesnakes sunning themselves on rocky
outcrops, into the catacombs.
The catacombs his expedition found are the first reported in the
United States, officials at the conference said.
“It’s very exciting to have it annunced at this conference. It’s
one of the few times we can say this is a first. Anytime you have a
first in our business, it’s exciting,” said Dr. James Schoenwetter,
professor of anthropology at Arizona State University in Tempe,
Ariz. “The idea of a very elaborate form of ceremonial chamber being
built underground hundreds of years ago is surprising.”
Indians of the southwest United States were not believed to have
built underground, Hohman said. For many of the cultures the
underground held special connotations, both good and bad, he said.
Burials were also done much as they are done now, he said, in graves
dug into the earth.
The catacombs, which Hohman and colleagues say are about 700 to 800
years old, were discovered at a known prehistoric Indian settlement
about two miles west of Springerville.
The Mongollon Indians occupied the site sometime between A.D. 1250
and 1400, Hohman said.
“There had been some suspicion that there was something underground
there,” Adams said, “When we actually entered the catacombs though,
it just blew us away.”
Getting there wasn’t easy.
“Everytime I’d get halfway down one of the others would find the
entry way,” Hohman said.
The carefully hidden entrances to the catacombs varied from the size
of doorways to small crawl spaces.
Once inside, Hohman and his colleagues found three to four acres of
catacombs, ranging from small chambers to huge rooms 50 feet high
and 100 feet long.
“It’s obvious that they were to protect the cattacombs,” said White.
“The average person living at the site would not have had access to
the area. It was probably entered only by certain people.”
Hohman, Diane E. White and Christopher D. Adams were investigating
the area for the town with an eye toward developing it as a
Hohman expects the site to produce at least one more major find.
“We think there is something else underground there. We’re working
in an area that we think will produce another major surprise,” he
The area, but not the catacombs, is open to the public, and will be
developed into a recreational area, Hohman said. The park is
expected to be opened within two years, he said.
Called Casa Malpais, the site represents one of the largest and most
complex ancient Mongollon communities in the nation, Hohman said.
[File submitted and upload by Linda Murphy. Springerville is located
on I-60, close to the New Mexico border]