It's ancient history in the here and now.

Allen Dart and the Vista del Rio Residents Association are teaming up to give young Tucsonans an opportunity to explore the past on March 16 at the Vista del Rio Archaeology Celebration at Vista del Rio Cultural Resource Park, 7575 E. Desert Arbors St.

The celebration is one of almost 100 events statewide this month, which is designated "Arizona Archaeology and Heritage Awareness Month" by the State Historic Preservation Office, a division of Arizona State Parks.

"People have been here since 11,000 B.C., and there are 88,310 sites in Arizona that have been recorded by the Arizona State Museum. Some are obvious, visibly in state national monuments and parks, but most are very small and would not even be recognized by most people," said Dart, who co-founded the Old Pueblo Archaeology Center in 1994.

The nonprofit center promotes awareness about conservation and preservation of treasures underfoot.

"Part of our educational focus is to instill in people the importance of preserving archeological sites and preserving any artifacts they find in place," Dart said.

"Every site is a little different, and each one can provide pieces of the puzzle that we try to put together, and the same argument can be made for individual artifacts. When people go out and collect artifacts, they don't realize the damage it is causing."

Dart hopes the center's education and outreach will help children and adults understand and appreciate archaeology and promote development of lifelong concern for the importance of nonrenewable resources and traditional cultures.

The center serves more than 3,000 people a year through educational programs and services, including classroom outreach and simulated excavations for schoolchildren.

For adults, the center offers free monthly presentations on history, culture and archaeology, as well as workshops in pottery-making, flint-knapping and arrowhead-making and tours to archaeological sites.

The center collaborates with various organizations, committees and Native American groups on projects and special events such as the upcoming celebration at Vista Del Rio Cultural Resource Park on Tucson's east side.

The annual celebration, sponsored by the Vista Del Rio Residents Association, is the result of a $65,000 grant from the Tohono O'odham Nation to provide public education about the ancient Hohokam Indians who lived at the Vista del Rio archaeological site and elsewhere in Southern Arizona.

The site was originally a vacant lot owned by the Tucson Unified School District. When it was slated for development, residents spearheaded a movement for an excavation of the area, and more than 30 pit houses were discovered.

"It was a known fact that Native Americans had lived in this area, and for years you would see pottery shards uncovered after rainstorms. With a partial excavation, they found it was rich in the legacy of the Hohokam," said Pat Wiedhopf, president of the Vista del Rio Residents Association.

A resulting fundraising campaign garnered more than $200,000 needed to create the Vista del Rio Cultural Resource Park. The four-acre walking park has a solar-powered ramada and educational signs detailing Hohokam activity that dates to about A.D. 1100.

"This is the heritage of the Southwest, and I think it is important that people understand the history of the area they live in and the people who went before us," Wiedhopf said. "Things get so built-up that you don't realize what was here before, and this little park and the events we do are nice reminders of that."


• What: Old Pueblo Archaeology Center's Vista del Rio Archaeology Celebration.

• When: 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. March 16.

• Where: City of Tucson Vista del Rio Cultural Resource Park, 7575 E. Desert Arbors St. (near North Dos Hombres and East Tanque Verde roads).

• Cost: Free; no reservations necessary.

• The details: This educational event targets kids ages 6 to 12 and is presented by the Old Pueblo Archaeology Center and sponsored by Vista del Rio Residents Association. Hands-on activities include grinding corn with an ancient metate and mano, playing traditional Native American games and creating pottery artifacts. Demonstrations of pottery-making and arrowhead-making will also be available.

• Info: Call the Old Pueblo Archaeology Center at 798-1201.

• What: Art for Archaeology featuring Donald C. Johanson, to benefit the Old Pueblo Archaeology Center.

• When: 6 to 9 p.m. March 23.

• Where: Arizona State Museum on the University of Arizona campus at the northeast corner of University Boulevard and Park Avenue.

• Cost: $75 per person or $125 for two.

• The details: Festivities at the gala include wine, beer and hors d'oeuvres; a live and silent auction of contemporary and Southwestern arts and crafts, Western art and gift packages; and a presentation by Johanson, the anthropologist who discovered the 3.2 million-year-old "Lucy" australopithecine skeleton in Ethiopia and author of "Lucy: The Beginnings of Humankind." All proceeds benefit education programs of the nonprofit Old Pueblo Archaeology Center.

• Reservations: Required; email or call 798-1201.

Contact freelance writer Loni Nannini at