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Racetracks in Arizona – it's not what you think

March 16, 2011

The talk is titled “Recent Advances in Central Arizona Racetrack Research,” but it doesn’t involve horses.

Instead, during the free lecture at 6 p.m. Thursday, April 21, at Arizona State University’s Deer Valley Rock Art Center, Will G. Russell will talk about linear ground features that were built in central Arizona in the mid-13th century.

Russell, a doctoral student in ASU’s archaeology program, notes that over time, scores more of these ground features were built, but the vast majority were placed atop Perry Mesa.

Russell has argued that these features were ceremonial racetracks used for social integration during an instance of ethnogenesis (the emergence of a distinct, recognizable, ethnic identity). Although ceremonial racing was likely important throughout the Southwest, the collection of tracks on Perry Mesa was unprecedented.

Ongoing research has shed new light on the spatial distribution, temporal trajectory, and social significance of these enigmatic features. Russell’s talk will cover new discoveries, approaches, and volunteer opportunities.

Russell also is a doctoral research fellow with the National Science Foundation and Ford Foundation. His dissertation research examines prehistoric religious development in central Arizona by looking at the genesis and transformation of a ritual racetrack network.

Deer Valley Rock Art Center is located at 3711 W. Deer Valley Road, two blocks west of 35th Avenue.

The Deer Valley Rock Art Center has the largest concentration of Native American petroglyphs in the Phoenix Valley. Visitors hike a 1/4-mile trail to view more than 1,500 petroglyphs made between 500 and 7,000 years ago. The museum aims to promote preservation, connection and respect for the site and is a destination for families to learn about archaeology in their own backyard.

The Center is managed by one of the top archaeology programs in the country – the School of Human Evolution & Social Change, an academic unit of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences – at ASU. DVRAC is a Phoenix Point of Pride.

For more information, contact Kim Arth at (623) 582-8007 or