Native peoples have inhabited the Grand Canyon for 12,000 years.
Adjusting to the seasons, to the availability of food, and to the demands of the rugged
corridors they chose as their home.
Architecture from the pueblo period, over 1000 years ago, is still visible.
Partial clues to their way of life remain hidden under layers of sand along the banks
of the Colorado River.
The Park as a preserve, protects these vestiges of the past.
Considering the size of Grand Canyon National Park
and the arc of time that people have inhabited the landscape here,
the canyon's prehistory is rich with human culture.
There have only been a handful of large archaeological excavations in the park,
starting with sites at Unkar Delta in 1967,
Bright Angel Pueblo in 1968,
and Walhalla Glades in 1969 and 70.
These earlier archaeology projects tended toward general research.
More recent archaeology in the park is geared toward preservation.
And one of the first steps in preservation is finding out exactly what you're trying to protect.
Toward that end, in 1990 and 1991 the Park launched an intensive inventory along the river.
Archaeologists walked the entire corridor on both sides of the river
to find evidence of cultural resources.
They identified over 400 sites.
Due to their mandate to preserve and protect the resources,
information was only collected from the surface.
Archaeologist monitored the sites to detect changes for the next 15 years.
Meanwhile, Glen Canyon Dam was changing
the natural cycle of water flow
in the Colorado River,
reducing the sedimentation that had taken place seasonly for thousands of years.
Prior to the dam's construction, seasonal flooding
would replenish the sediment along the contours of the river corridor,
and many of the archaeological sites were preserved
under the silt that the river deposited and the wind redistributed.
Since the closing of the dam gates in 1963,
the reduction of water flow and sediment has led to increased erosion
on beaches and terraces throughout the canyon.
Some of the cultural sites that had been safely buried
for eons were exposed, resulting in accelerated erosion.
The erosion was also being accelerated by human visitation to the sites.
In 2006, nine sites were identified by the National Park Service
as the most threatened by these combined forces.
If no action was taken, these sites would potentially crumble
and flow down river, and with them, valuable information would be lost.
To protect the cultural information in the sites
that were threatened, they needed to excavate.
...You know, for the carbon dating, with this OSL dating we can actually date the last time...
Park archaeologists met with a eleven Native American tribes,
who claim cultural ties to the canyon, to get input on how they felt about examinating.
The sites and excavating the artifacts for study and preservation.
Their input helped design the approach that would be taken on the project.
This would be the first extensive excavation in the park in over 40 years.
It would provide a rare opportunity to learn more of the cultural history of the river corridor.
Grand Canyon archaeologists teamed up with the Museum of Northern Arizona.
Team leadership was provided by park archaeologist Lisa Leap and MNA archaeologist, Ted Neff.
The crew traveled by raft on nine trips down the river over a four year period to access
Due to their fragility and remote location, all the excavation was done by hand,
requiring immense amounts of manual labor to move tons of sand by bucket and wheelbarrow.
The visiting public was invited to observe the ongoing process.
This project, is a cooperative project between the National Park Service and the Museum of
Over 2000 people, on private and commercial raft trips were given the opportunity to see
the process firsthand.
They could also have the opportunity to enjoy the traveling exhibit,
including artifacts and professional photos acquired during the digs.
This is what we're calling "feature 5" it's a 2 room masonry structure
Good question. He said, "Well, how do your know it's ceremonial?
And that is, through oral histories, we worked with 11 different tribes in the park.
This project, we've been able to run these commercial and these private trips through,
and more people have been able to see these archaeology sites.
To see the archaeologist working and see what that really do and the conditions they work in,
then I think any other project I've ever been on.
There's different excavations that go on all around the Southwest,
and it's really neat, for other parks, perhaps,
when they have something like this going on,
to actually do a similar thing. Have an interpretor there.
Have people watch what archeologists do and what you uncover.
And, we've seen this with the river trips that are coming through by the dozens each day,
I think arts and sciences have the ability to change the mental eye of the people down
who are looking at the canyon, and if they can perceive things in a different way
then it's more likely that they would want to care for it and protect it, and to help
others protect that resource.
I think that by helping them see what's here, it gives them, not only a sense of wonder,
but it makes them invested in trying to help protect this place,
because they see that there is more here than just rock and water,
which is beautiful, but the human story at Grand Canyon begins
in the Paleo-Indian period 12,000 years ago, and continues today
with the modern tribes, and we want people to be interested, and care about that,
so that they help preserve it.
Yes, what they're discovering, the artifacts that are being found,
the history of some of the people that may have lived here,
and they're are still unanswered questions, you know. And that's the exciting part of it.
We need to fund these projects and keep it going.
We really punched through it, right here.
This has been a natural break here.
This room is standing on top of it.
Critical data on location of the artifacts within structures,
the design elements of the structures themselves,
and dating of any wood found within them, help with the understanding of chronology.
This project is also only the second one I've been on where I feel
like we're adding a huge amount of information to a relatively thin database.
The other one was the Kapirowitz project, where you can actually come away
with, with new ways of thinking, and with new information that people can get their hands
on a big, big way.
I think this project is a great collaboration between people who know the canyon intimately
and, professionals who know the canyon very well, and archaeologists who have worked here
a little bit,
but have also worked in a lot of other areas. And that's really where you really see the
growth of new ideas in interpretation.
As all the minute details emerge, they provide evidence of living habits,
food choices, and general day-to-day life activities of the people who lived in this
harsh environment hundreds of years ago.
These folks lived in an environment that was, sort of stingy with giving up its resources,
so they really had to know a lot about the local environment where they lived,
how they could produce crops, how they could hunt and gather the types of plant and animal
resources that they needed.
And oftentimes, you know, we go into an area like this setting here, and our minds think
that the prehistoric setting was like it is now.
And so, what I am able to do is go back and look in the Paleo record, look at the stratigraph
and identify what the enviornment might have been like, when they were living here before,
because, oftentimes the environment would change, and you'd go, 'what the heck were
they doing here?'
And my research allows us to more closely evaluate the prehistoric folks relationship
to the enviornment.
There is a incredible amount of impact from erosion, and that's ultimately what's going
what gets excavated down here, is that, this is an erosional environment,
and, as we speak, and as we found out over the last few sessions,
it changes under your very feet from day to day.
Sand is moving in on top of you and sand is coming up from below your feet,
and these people had to deal with this same issue.
If we don't find structure within that, that might be a possibility.
Yea, they may have flattened this out, flattened the whole area out, and then, placed the floor
Yea, this looks like a flood deposit to me, though, what we have been calling a flood
deposit. Pretty much.
Many of the sites show signs of multiple occupations from generations of residents coming from
several different cultural backgrounds.
Pottery pieces and tools are compared and dated to add to the cultural information.
A sampling of significant artifacts were carefully packed out and taken to the lab and prepared
for further analysis. Final curation will be located
at the South Rim of the park.
The artifacts will be sent out to different analysts.
Once the results of everybody's work comes back, you've got ceramics, lithics, pollen,
flotation, soil samples of various kinds.
All that comes together, all the descriptive information about that, and interpretations
from that all get kind of, combined together into a final report, which will give you a
really detailed idea of, of the past lives, of these folks, because, you know, what archaeology
does, is, it kind of provides a historical perspective to people who otherwise have not been recorded
by written history.
Still, making informed judgments on the full spectrum of life that took place here is very
difficult with only small pieces of the puzzle to work with.
I think what we don't see oftentimes when we're in those pits, is we don't step back,
and just think about how people were movin' around, you know,
how people were functioning, and what their daily lives were. You know,
we're really engrosed in a metate, and getting pollen, but, you know,
we don't step out of that box and say, you know, 'What did the landscape look like?'
and, 'Was it hot? Was it cold? Were they happy?
Were they constantly trying to find food?'
I mean, those things you don't see on a metate, or a mano, or a point. You don't see the story
behind it. The human story behind it.
The archaeologist at Grand Canyon National Park are keenly aware that the river corridor
is sacred ground for many tribes and holds cultural value that needs to be respected.
This river, to the tribes that we work with, is very sacred to them.
This whole Grand Canyon area is extremely sacred and important to them,
and I'm sure that, that has gone on from generation to generation.
The third big component of this project is tribal participation,
and we've really tried to stress that from the get-go, even from when we were writing
that first draft, of the implementation plan, we sent that draft out to the tribes.
and we encouraged them to say, "Give us some questions that you're interested in."
you know, we want your participation in every fashion that we can get it.
I think that over the last 20 years, the interaction between the Native American groups
who have a vested interest in the Grand Canyon, and the archaeological community,
has dramatically changed, and for the better.
And, that's come about, in part, because there have been a few people in both organizations,
in the tribal organizations, and in the Park Service who have really made the best possible
effort to do that.
You get these very specific things that people tell you,
and again, working on the Navajo Reservation for so long,
we would excavate and we would find features, that would be questionable,
or that we thought we knew how to interpret, and,
someone on the crew, just, you know, not a trained archaeologist, but local folks who
were working with us would say, "Oh, that's a... My grandmother had one of
those in her house." or whatever. And that's really important !
For an archaeologist like me, its an absolute privledge.
You know, we are archaeologists, we haven't been around, we're Euro-Americans.
This isn't our history here.
These people have been here for a very long time and, they're still practicing these traditions,
and they are the experts.
At first we opposed any archaeology digs, but with the floods and everything that's
if it's not done, we're losing our history.
And there's not a recorded history,
we don't have any books,
and the only information that we have that our people were down here,
is sites like this.
And if they're not excavated,
and if the information is not acquired through digs like this,
then if it's lost, at some time, then, our history,
the proof that our people were down here would all be lost.
At Grand Canyon National Park it becomes self-evident,
that even over the large sweep of human occupation,
we're all just visitors to this land of extremes and contradictions,
where rock, water and wind slowly erase the past.
The challenge for archaeologist is to sift through time,
to understand the living dance between culture and the elements,
and to protect the resources in the process.
After the excavation, the sites were backfilled to provide the greatest protection and preservation.
The areas were recontoured and revegetated to minimize erosion and remove all evidence
of the activity.
The landscape is left much as it was,
but the new data acquired helps ensure that another link to people from the past has been
preserved for the future.