Anyone looking for something prehistoric need look no further than the pit houses at Willow Lake City Park.
The people of the Prescott Culture were living in them from around 850/900 to 1100, said Warner Wise, a docent with the Yavapai Chapter of the Arizona Archaeological Society.
“Prehistoric in the Americas was different than prehistoric in Europe,” Wise said.
Human prehistory is considered by historians to be the time between the use of the first stone tool and the invention of writing systems and some cultures experienced the end of prehistory far later than others.
When the people of the Prescott Culture were living in the pit houses, it was wetter due to a lot more moisture and rain, Wise said.
This allowed for family groups doing what it took to survive to plant and grow crops, making the people more sedentary, he said. Close to the 1200s, it became drier so the agricultural sites were abandoned, Wise said.
After the pit houses were abandoned, the people started building hilltop sites, he said. Why they went from pit houses to fortified types of places is up for debate, Wise said.
The City of Prescott bought the land in 1998 to turn the area into a city park and knew the sites were present because of pottery and other remains on the surface he said.
In 2002 and 2003, the plan was to add picnic ramadas but first they had to find out what was there, Wise said. An excavation uncovered 20 structures, he said.
“They didn’t excavate all of them, they excavated quite a few. They filled them all back in except for these three they wanted to leave for the people to be able to see them,” Wise said. “They usually bury them because it helps preserve them.”
The partial remains of an infant and a woman was also found in one of the sites as were remains of crops in a smaller area meant for food storage, he said.
Archaeologically speaking, the Prescott Culture faded away and the Yavapai people came into existence, though the Yavapai believe they have been here all along, Wise said.
The pit houses are open for public viewing on the first Saturday of every month from 10 a.m. to noon. Willow Lake City Park is located at 1497 Heritage Park Road.
The Yavapai Chapter of the Arizona Archaeological Society meets at the Smoki Museum, 147 N. Arizona Ave, on the third Thursday of every month at 6:30 p.m.