For more than 40 years, Glen Rice has uncovered the dark past to illuminate our present and future.
Recently, the Ahwatukee man received the lifetime achievement award from the Governor’s Archaeology Advisory Commission for that work.
“An archaeologist studies the lives of past peoples by looking at the material things they left behind, including their trash, housewares, tools, homes and villages,” said Rice, who led the Office of Cultural Resource Management at Arizona State University from 1977 to 2005.
There, he directed archaeological excavation and inventory projects under contracts, rather than grants, from government agencies or private firms.
Retired with wife Betsy, he researches, writes, edits and regularly hikes the Mormon Loop trail in South Mountain.
“From the crest of South Mountain, there are great views of the Valley once covered by Hohokam agricultural fields and dotted with their villages,” he said.
The Hohokam were a Native American people who were among the first farmers to make the Valley home, living here as early as 500 to the 14th century, when they disappeared as a result of a number of possible reasons, including drought, warfare, social discord or even new religious movements, Rice said.
They are credited with building the long irrigation canals that the pioneer settlers reused and expanded just after the American Civil War, giving birth to Phoenix.
In addition to his ASU work, Rice co-owned a CRM firm from 2005 to 2012 and made significant research and mentoring contributions to the archaeology of Arizona.
His book, with Steven LeBlanc, “Deadly Landscapes: Case Studies in Prehistoric Southwestern Warfare,” discusses conflict in Arizona prehistory, and another, “Sending the Spirits Home: The Archaeology of Hohokam Mortuary Practices,” won the Don and Catherine Fowler Prize from the University of Utah Press.
He is now editing the Journal of Arizona Archaeology and working on a book on Hohokam households and villages.
Some of his many projects focused on Hohokam communities such as La Ciudad, where Interstate 10 joins the Loop 202 near St. Luke’s Medical Center in Phoenix; Las Canopas, 20 acres of a 200-acre-plus Hohokam farming village occupied from about 700 to 1400 in South Phoenix; La Plaza Tempe, on the ASU Tempe campus; and the Roosevelt Platform Mound Study, a nine-year project for the Bureau of Reclamation at the Roosevelt Dam in Tonto Basin.
“We frequently work by excavation, and most people are familiar with our meticulously slow procedures and obsession with mapping and note-taking. But we are also interested in what is still visible on the surface of the ground, which in Arizona includes trails, irrigation canals, rock quarries and petroglyphs pecked on boulders,” added Rice.
Archaeologists are also interested in major events, such as when early Southwest people transitioned to agriculture and how the Hohokam built and operated their canals, Rice explained, adding:
“We are intrigued by the personal element: the handprint of a person in the plaster on a wall or a footprint in the mud at the bottom of a canal or a man’s or woman’s toolkit carefully stored in the corner of a room behind a storage jar.”
Their economies are studied, too.
“Why was the beautifully painted Hohokam pottery made almost exclusively in villages on the middle Gila and yet had such appeal that it was traded to villages throughout the Phoenix, Tucson, Gila Bend and Flagstaff areas?” he asked.
The religious beliefs, or spiritual order, is also important, such as the images painted on pottery or inscribed on boulders, for example, and the symbolism of Hohokam platform mounds and their shrines hidden in mountain ranges beyond the villages.
“We strive always to do this with respect, by recognizing the concerns of modern descendants for their ancestors and by understanding the history of these past people in the context of their own society, belief systems, technology and challenges of daily living,” said Rice.
Rice, whose doctorate is from the University of Washington, based his dissertation on archaeological research he conducted in the White Mountains of Arizona.
Rice’s major contributions are two multiple-year projects, explained David Jacobs, an archaeologist with the Arizona State Historic Preservation Office who reviews federal and state compliance for projects funded and/or conducted by federal and state agencies.
He began his association with Rice in the mid-1970s, when they worked as archaeologists for firms conducting excavations and writing reports in Southern California.
They worked on La Ciudad in the early 1980s and later with Bureau of Reclamation work at 70-plus sites just north of the East Valley before the original 1911 Roosevelt Dam was raised, flooding some significant archaeological sites in the Tonto Basin.
One of the largest federally funded archaeological investigations in Arizona, the Roosevelt Platform Mound Study greatly expanded historians’ knowledge of the Salado Native Americans, a group that also disappeared, it’s believed, around the 14th century, once again probably for a number of possible reasons, Rice explained.
“Both of these huge projects resulted in numerous reports with new information that guided research topics in the field, and they both also result in the training of many of the mid-level to senior archaeologists currently working in Arizona,” he said.
Arleyn W. Simon, another industry associate, also praised Rice’s life work. “Glen has made significant contributions to interpreting prehistoric Hohokam and Salado household and political organization and mortuary practices.
“His projects always emphasized teamwork, and he has trained hundreds of undergraduate and graduate student in archaeological methods and field work,” said Simon, an associate research professor at the Center for Archaeology and Society Repository in the School of Human Evolution and Social Change at ASU.
Not just important academically, archaeology provides practical and informational importance for the community.
Archaeologists help government agencies and private developers comply with federal, state and municipal laws concerning archaeological sites before highways, dams, transmission lines and new neighborhoods can be built, Rice explained.
In addition, cemeteries of Native American peoples are federal and state protected, and archaeologists help identify where these are located and collaborate with tribal elders in relocating traditional cultural properties on government or private lands and developing inventories so places of religious and cultural importance can be protected.
Archaeological sites in Arizona also contribute to understanding important events in human history, such as the transition to agriculture and the development of settled village life.
“Central and southern Arizona had one of the largest pre-industrial irrigation networks, one that was constructed cooperatively by the users without a centralized political authority,” Rice said. “And, in the heavily populated areas along the lower Salt and Middle Gila, the Hohokam had taken an initial step toward urban life and the formation of towns.”