Monday, August 07, 2017


Not long after Dan Arnit made the biggest archaeological find of his career, he had to go build a parking lot.

The news of his discovery—3,000-year-old footprints made by a family walking through ancient fields—had made it up the chain at the Pima County government in Arizona, which wanted to show off the oldest footprints ever found in the Southwest. But the archaeological site was a mess. Arnit was his team’s backhoe operator when he found the footprints, so he and his tractor got a new job: Build a parking lot for hundreds of eager visitors.

Arnit doesn’t usually build parking lots anymore. He specializes in the delicate work of using heavy machinery to dig trenches at archaeological sites. With custom equipment made in his own machine shop, Arnit can shave off as little as one millimeter of dirt at a time with a backhoe. “He is by far the most knowledgeable operator I know,” said Mary Prasciunas, an archaeologist at Pima Community College. Prasciunas has worked with Arnit on digs throughout Arizona as well as a mammoth site in Wyoming. Archaeologists frequently rely on heavy machine operators like Arnit—“artists with a backhoe,” as one archaeologist called them—to dig delicately but quickly through the earth.


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