A team of scientists exploring Springs Preserve with remote-sensing gear have found what is believed to be a prehistoric village of pit houses where as many as 30 Anasazi lived about 1,300 years ago, the preserve's archaeologist said Friday.
The discovery of two and possibly four pit house structures was made "in the last few days" by researchers from Ithaca College in New York who used ground-penetrating radar to probe beneath topsoil in the northwest corner of the 180-acre preserve along U.S. Highway 95, Springs Preserve Archaeologist Patti Wright said.
She said carbon dating of plant charcoal remnants found in the hearth of a pit house that was partially excavated several years ago near the village indicates ancestral Puebloans were living there between A.D. 700 and A.D. 800, or between 1,200 and 1,300 years ago.
"I think it's very significant because we have very little information about people living here during that time period," Wright said by phone from Toronto, where she had presented a scientific paper on another topic and was catching a plane to return to Las Vegas.
"What we know just from the surface and artifacts collected, it looks like they could be Virgin River Anasazi who came from the Southwest area, migrated to the Virgin River and then to (what is now) Las Vegas," she said.
"That's a perfect location to have a settlement. It's a relatively lush area with plenty of water that would draw a wealth of different animals," said Wright, an employee of the Las Vegas Valley Water District, which owns the preserve.
A number of items previously found in that portion of the preserve — including chipped stone, ceramics and a shell bead that was probably transported from the California coast by traders — are typical of Pueblo people of the vanished Anasazi tribe.
Remote-sensing images recorded by researchers led by Ithaca College assistant physics professor Michael Rogers show a grouping of pit houses.
"We're hoping if we have a little village that would really be exciting. There they are in the center of town," Wright said. "These would be a set of structures that are significant because they're still here and preserved."
Rogers, an expert in development and use of remote-sensing tools, said in a news release that technology enables scientists to find out more quickly what's buried in the ground than through digging or disturbing the site.
The results are accomplished "in days what might take years using traditional methods," Rogers said.
Alan Simmons, anthropology and archaeology professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, is also quoted in the release, saying "this collaborative effort between geophysicists and archaeologists may uncover an extremely significant find."
Remnants of pit houses with earthen floors covered with thatched roofs have been found elsewhere in the Las Vegas Valley. One that measured 13 feet in diameter was excavated in 2003 at a site near Lake Las Vegas in northeast Henderson. Two UNLV archaeologists found evidence of burned wood charcoal from an ancient hearth in the bank of a wash after a 1975 flood.
Analysis showed aboriginal people lived there 1,400 years ago. They were probably farmers who occupied the area and weren't just passing through the valley in search of food and game, investigators hired by the Bureau of Reclamation said during the dig.
Similar to the shell bead found at the partially excavated Springs Preserve pit house, an olivella shell from a Pacific Ocean shellfish was sifted from soil during the pit house dig in northeast Henderson. One archaeologist said that shell was either obtained in a trade by people living along Las Vegas Wash or had been carried from the coast to the site.
Another pit house site exists at Corn Creek on the northwest outskirts of the valley.
Wright said archaeologists plan to consult with American Indian tribes about the Springs Preserve pit house village before writing a scientific paper about it.
Contact reporter Keith Rogers at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0308.