TwHP Lessons

Tonto National Monument:
Saving a National Treasure

[Photo] Upper cliff dwelling, Tonto National Monument.
(Courtesy of Tonto National Monument)


ucked into cool recesses of erosion-carved caves high above Arizona's Tonto Basin stand long deserted cliff dwellings of the ancient Salado people. From about A.D. 1050 until approximately 1450, the Salado culture thrived in this valley where the Tonto Creek joins the Salt River. Around 1300, people of the Salado culture spread out from the valley onto hillside slopes, plateaus and caves. Today wind, sun, desert creatures and visitors roam through the mud-plastered structures built by the Salado people, but long ago the hillsides bustled with human life. No one knows for certain why some groups of Salado moved into caves, but it is widely accepted that a growing population and shrinking resources forced the Salado to move upward, into the hillsides. The Salado left no written records; their stories had to be told through careful archeological investigation and studies of the skillfully painted pottery, woven fabrics, and other physical remains they left behind. These materials lay undisturbed for centuries among the ruins and beneath the surface of the rugged terrain. The site containing them is a jewel in our nation's historical crown. Yet it was nearly lost when progress, ignorance, greed and a lack of national policies to protect historic places like this conspired to threaten the Salado stories.

The Antiquities Act of 1906 was inspired by the need to safeguard ancient American Indian ruins in the southwestern United States during the 19th-century push to open the country's western frontier. One hundred years after its enactment, the American Antiquities Act remains one of the nation's most important conservation laws. Because of its passage, Tonto National Monument and the history of the Salado people survive to tell the stories of an unwritten past.


About This Lesson

Getting Started: Inquiry Question

Setting the Stage: Historical Context

Locating the Site: Maps
 1. Regional map noting Tonto National

Determining the Facts: Readings
 1. Tonto National Monument
 2. Inspiration and Impetus for Protecting
 American Antiquities

 3. Antiquities Act of 1906
 4. Safeguarding our Nation's Treasures

Visual Evidence: Images
 1. Cliff dwellings and surrounding area
 2. Mannequin at the 1876 Centennial Exhibition
 3. Indian tent at the 1876 Centennial Exhibition
 4. Cliff dwelling and people
 5. Salado pottery
 6. Woven shirt
 7. Woven sandals
 8. National Monument sites

Putting It All Together: Activities
 1. Cliff Dwelling Research
 2. Preservation Debate
 3. The First Inhabitants of Your Community

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Tonto National Monument

The lesson is based on the Tonto National Monument Archeological District; and Tonto National Monument, Lower Ruin and Upper Ruin; several of the thousands of properties listed in the National Register of Historic Places.



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