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November is National American Indian Heritage Month

For hundreds of generations American Indians have called this land home. In some places, the achievements of ancient cultures are visible on the landscape in surviving architecture of stone, adobe, or earth. More often, the remains of materials are underground and out of sight. In either case, the methods and techniques of archeology are used to illuminate the past and help us better understand it.

Sometimes the clues to a site's location are right on the surface, like the earthworks of the Mississippi valley, or eroding out of the ground as with Alagnak Village in Katmai NP&P in Alaska. At the other extreme are sites deeply buried, such as the sites discovered near the Potomac River in the C&O Canal NHP in Maryland. The search may take place high in the mountains, or in the middle of Washington, DC.

In many cases, archeologists and American Indians work together to preserve and protect the important legacy represented by ancient sites, as with the cooperative work at Brooks River Cut Bank, also at Katmai. Many communities find that archeology is important to them.

Preserving and protecting archeological places and their collections and records are ways of honoring the past and giving ourselves the opportunity to learn from it. Some sites are formally recognized as nationally important, such as National Historic Landmarks associated with the earliest Americans in the eastern U.S., and the Coso Rock Art District in California.

When archeological sites are in danger of being destroyed, sometimes the best response is to rebury them, as at Chaco Culture National Historical Park. Preserving the records from over a century of excavation takes some effort too, as the Chaco Digital Initiative shows. Explore some of the extraordinary objects recovered by browsing through on online exhibit of the Chaco museum collections.

You can visit many places to celebrate the achievements of American Indians and Alaska Natives and gain a sense of the long history of this land. Explore Visit Archeology for some ideas for a trip. Also be sure to visit your National Parks! Teachers will want to use some of the Teaching with Historic Places lesson plans on American Indian History.

Did you know?

Dr. Arthur C. Parker, a Seneca Indian, co-founded and served as the first President of the Society for American Archaeology from 1935-1936. The Society's scholarship for Native Peoples from the U.S. and Canada is named in his honor.

  • (photo) White Mountain Apaches explore the past through its material remains. (University of Arizona)
  • (photo) Alutiiq artifacts. (Alutiiq Museum and Archaeological Repository in Alaska.)
  • (NPS Photo) Snow-covered remains of stone building complex at Salinas Pueblo Missions.
  • (NPS Photo) Horse figurines made from split willow sticks uncovered at Grand Canyon.

TSM/MJB