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Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona

(NPS Photo) A man smoking a pipe ponders huge chunks of petrified wood that lay across Petrified National Monument.

The seemingly harsh landscape of northeastern Arizona yields petrified wood recognized for its colorful shapes and unique durability. Archeology tells us that this region is special for more than its petrified wood alone.

Other than projectile points and other stone tools, some of which were made from petrified wood, little evidence has been found of American Indian cultures that lived in the region between 9500 B.C. and A.D. 300. Around 1700-1000 years ago, people lived in pit houses. They moved down from the mesa and dune tops closer to farm the land, where they grew corn, beans, and squash. Many of the recorded sites at Petrified Forest National Park date from between 1000 and 650 years ago, when people built rooms above the ground and subterranean ceremonial rooms called kivas. They used pottery, tools such as manos and metates, petrified wood and obsidian points and scrapers, locally made pottery, and trade items.

About 700 years ago, the ancestral Pueblo peoples' beliefs in Kachinas became widespread. Petroglyphs and pictographs of Kachina figures and animals appeared on the rock faces and in kiva murals. They used piki stones for making piki bread and a toolkit of small, triangular points. As the population began to aggregate into larger communities, they lived along major drainages or near springs in a complex of over a hundred one-story rooms, kivas, and frequently a rectangular plaza. Near the Puerco River lie the remains of this ancient community. Agate House is an eight-room pueblo that may have been constructed entirely of petrified wood. Puerco Pueblo is one of a few sites of this type and date managed by the National Park Service.

On December 8, 1906 President Theodore Roosevelt created Petrified Forest National Monument, stating that "the mineralized remains of Mesozoic forests…are of the greatest scientific interest and value and it appears that the public good would be promoted by reserving these deposits of fossilized wood as a National monument with as much land as may be necessary for the proper protection thereof" (Proc. No. 697). Preservation under the Antiquities Act protects both Petrified Forest's natural and archeological resources. The National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 enabled Petrified Forest, now a national park, to put Agate House Pueblo on the National Register of Historic Places in 1975, the first of many.

Today, more than 580,000 visitors annually explore the site's 93,533 acres. They visit archeological places such as Agate House, the Puerco Ruins and Petroglyphs, Painted Desert Community Complex Historic District, and more. Visitors also take ranger-guided tours of the archeological and historic areas, see exhibits, demonstrations, and programs. Call 928-524-6228 for more information on these events and presentations.

Fourth graders' responses when asked why it is important to protect natural and cultural resources for future generations:

  • “So when we study the past we can learn about oursel[ves].”
  • “It is important because we can keep our tradition.”
  • “So we remember our ancestors.”
  • “So people can learn about people who lived long ago. So some people can learn about their ancestors.”
  • “So that your grand children and great grand children can see it.”
  • “So people can learn about people who lived long ago. So some people can learn about their ancestors.”

(Source: Fourth grade visitors to Petrified Forest National Park)

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