On-line Book

A Survey of the Recreational Resources of the Colorado River Basin







The Colorado River Basin


Plant and Animal Life

Prehistory of Man

Recreational Benefits of Reservoirs

Potential Reservoirs

The Grand Canyon

Canyon Lands of Southeastern Utah

Dinosaur National Monument

Conservation of Recreational Resources

Life Zone Map


A Survey of the Recreational Resources of the Colorado River Basin
National Park Service Arrowhead

Chapter IV:


Although archeology is primarily concerned with the study of prehistoric peoples, one phase of this study lies in endeavoring to link these early peoples with the modern. Thus, the location, extent, and cultural achievements of present-day Indian tribes in this area are likewise of deep interest to the student of human history and efforts are made to trace these cultures back into the past.

At the present time at least 15 different Indian tribes, representing five or more distinct linguistic groups, occupy various sections of the Colorado River Basin. From all indications most of these tribes have been in the area for hundreds of years, since the earliest Spanish records, dating back to the sixteenth century, show that members of practically all of these groups were encountered in the same general regions in which they are found today.

In northern Arizona and western New Mexico the Hopi and Zuni Pueblo Indians still occupy villages in areas they and their ancestors, the prehistoric Indians who built cliff dwellings and multistoried mesa pueblos, have inhabited for almost the past 2,000 years. The same can be said for the Pima and Papago Indian tribes living today in the valleys of southern Arizona, tribes that are in all probability the descendants of the prehistoric Hohokam desert dwellers. Along the Lower Colorado River and it s tributaries, in the territory formerly the seat of the Patayan Culture, occur the scattered remnants of the Yuman tribes, the Havasupai, Hualpai, Yavapai, Mohave, Maricopa, Yuma, and Cocopa, tribes that may be in part the living representatives of the prehistoric river peoples.

Zuni Pueblo
Figure 50.—Modern Indian Zuni Pueblo, N. Mex.

The various foregoing modern Indian tribes all fall into the same general classification of sedentary peoples. To a greater or less degree all these groups are agriculturists, live in permanent villages, make pottery in abundance, and are skilled in the arts and crafts. Thus, the task of tracing their historic and prehistoric remains throughout the region is considerably simplified.

However, turning our attention now to the present-day nomadic hunting and seed-gathering tribes—tribes that, strictly speaking, were not sedentary, were not agriculturists, and made relatively little pottery—efforts at tracing these peoples back into the past are infinitely more difficult. Archeological remains of these groups are very sparse and, consequently, much of their early history can only be postulated. It seems likely that, perhaps during the thirteenth century, bands of Athapascan-speaking peoples entered the Southwest, from the western plains or through the Great Basin, having come originally from western Canada where today dwell the main body of Athapascans. These bands spread in various directions over the Southwest and, after receiving accretions from the Pueblo peoples and others, eventually became the modern Navajo of northern Arizona and New Mexico and the Apaches of eastern Arizona. These two tribes were mainly hunters and fighters, and agriculture and pottery making were only incidental features of their culture, developed after arrival in the Southwest under Pueblo influence.

Our knowledge of the prehistory of the last of the nomadic tribes within the area—the Ute of western Colorado and Utah, and the Paiute of southern Utah and eastern Nevada is limited. Relatives of these tribes have been in adjacent areas in the Great Basin for centuries, and it is highly probable that these two groups entered the Colorado River Basin at some remote time during the prehistoric period.

It is evident from the foregoing that a great deal of work remains to be accomplished on the study of these modern Indian tribes, particularly the various nomadic groups, before the essential framework of their cultural past is clearly defined. Villages and camp sites of the historic period, that is, since 1540 A.D., connect the modern tribes, which are historically and ethnologically known, with the prehistoric ruins. Future study of such sites will serve both to determine the origins and relationships of the living tribes and, conversely, to animate and illumine the prehistoric ruins and artifacts, to fill out the incomplete picture they present of aboriginal cultures and peoples. Such sites, numerous in the Colorado drainage though relatively little studied so far, range from large pueblos such as Awatovi, destroyed in 1700 A.D., and almost deserted Oraibi, to inconspicuous camping places of Ute hunters.


Archeology is of significance not alone to the archeologist or student of primitive man. Archeology, in brief, is the study of human history. The more we learn about the life and times of every ancient people and tribe, the more we learn concerning the rise and fall of past human civilizations, the more we learn of how other people at other times attempted to solve various situations, the better equipped we shall be to solve our present and future problems of individual and social adjustments.

Archeology as a science can be justified solely on the basis that people are interested in it and desire to know more about it. A review of the feature stories of the past few decades will reveal that a number of them deal with spectacular finds of archeological material, such as the opening of King Tut's tomb in Egypt, the jewelry from Monte Alban in Mexico, the jade ornaments and giant stone heads from Vera Cruz, and the still romantic cliff dwellings of the Southwest. The old saying, "The proper study of mankind is man," is still as true as the day it was first spoken.

One of the greatest assets of archeology lies in the field of popular education. Our local, State, and national museums derive a great deal of their exhibited material from archeological excavations. The specimens and information resulting from these excavations increase our knowledge of the historical background of the Colorado River Basin. Archeology will also furnish our scientists with much valuable information on past climatic changes, population trends and migrations, methods of agriculture, problems of land use, and many other beneficial phases vital to our present civilization.

The National Park Service, through its national parks and monuments, has preserved for study and public use a great many of the outstanding archeological ruins in the Colorado River Basin. Some of the most important of these, to name only a few, are thus protected in Mesa Verde National Park, in Dinosaur, Navajo, Canyon de Chelly, Wupatki, Chaco Canyon, Aztec Ruins, Casa Grande, and Tonto National Monuments, and in Lake Mead Recreational Area. However, there are literally thousands of other ruins, many of which are equally important, which do not have this protection and are consequently subject to destruction through any one of a number of causes.


The greater part of the archeological wealth of the Southwest, as is evident from the foregoing discussion, is found within the Colorado River Basin, and a considerable part is concentrated in the valleys themselves adjacent to an adequate water supply and agricultural fields. Construction of dams and the consequent flooding of hundreds of miles of river valleys will destroy countless thousands of these prehistoric and historic ruins. This archeological heritage, including house remains, pottery, stone, bone, and shell ornaments, implements, and utensils, burials, and other materials forms a national asset, a priceless record of prehistoric man's aims and accomplishments that can never be replaced, once the evidence is destroyed. The sites and artifacts represent a span of thousands of years, from the ancient hunters of animals, now extinct, to the historic tribes of living Indians.

In the course of modern reclamation and power development, it is inevitable that ruins of major archeological value in the Colorado River Basin will be destroyed. These ruins can be grouped into three general classes: (a) those which lie within the actual reservoir area of a dam site and will thus be flooded, (b) those which lie below the reservoirs on cultivable land to be put under the plough by virtue of the availability of a new and constant water supply from the reservoir; and (c) those which lie in the path of canal, road, or other construction related to the project as a whole.


To offset this potential loss of the vestiges of early Americans, a loss which will be irretrievable to the scientist and the public alike, there is a definite and immediate need for a well-planned and coordinated archeological program for the Colorado River Basin, a program that will include specific recovery measures. This program might well be in accord with the resolution proposed by the Committee for the Recovery of Archeological Remains for the conservation of national archeological resources in the various river valleys, and should include the following provisions:

1. A careful archeological survey, carried out by trained personnel, of each of the prospective dam sites, both above the dam within the reservoir area and below the dam where ruins may fall within construction or land reclamation limits. This preliminary reconnaissance is to be done well in advance of construction time, and will include specific recommendations as to the nature of archeological work required.

The Preliminary Archeological Survey and Recommendation for the Davis Dam Reservoir Area, prepared by the National Park Service, May 1943, as a part of the survey of the Recreational Resources of the Colorado River Basin, is a specific example of the type of survey and recommendations needed. This survey located and mapped 150 archeological sites within the reservoir area and indicated that 15 of them were of sufficient importance to be tested and at least partially excavated prior to the filling of the reservoir. Of the 15 important sites, at least 7 should be thoroughly explored.

A survey was also made on the Yampa and Green Rivers in the Juniper, Echo Park, and Split Mountain Reservoir sites. About 20 archeological sites were definitely located and evidence of other sites was found. A number of these sites, particularly the cave and rock-shelter sites and a larger surface location, should be thoroughly explored before they are inundated.

2. Excavation of sites selected on the basis of their special importance as determined by the archeological survey. The recovery program must be begun early enough to avoid work stoppages before projects have been completed by the rising waters impounded behind the dam. Finally, the work should be done by qualified archeologists cooperating closely with both State and Federal agencies. Pursuant to an inter-bureau agreement with the National Park Service, investigation and salvage of archeological remains in connection with the Bureau of Reclamation and Corps of Engineers water-control projects throughout the United States are being conducted under the direction of the Smithsonian Institution.

3. Thorough laboratory study and adequate publication of the scientific data.

In summary, since a high percentage of the archeological remains of the Colorado River Basin are confined to the various river valleys, in areas where they are subject to potential destruction by the construction of proposed dams, it is highly imperative that funds be made available and a definite program along the lines just suggested be immediately initiated, in order to recover the important data and material from key sites before their inundation.

NEXT >>>

online book Top

Last Modified: Mon, Sep 6 2004 10:00:00 pm PDT

National Park Service's ParkNet Home