The high, arid Colorado Plateau region is world-renowned for its many well-preserved archeological sites. We may think first of excavations or arrowheads, but archeology involves a wide range of structures and objects - all the things used by past peoples in their daily lives. Archeologists study all these resources - from the smallest piece of pottery, to charcoal and food remains, to the rock and wood remains of large buildings. These things, and the places where they are found, teach us more about the people who lived here and help us to connect their lives with ours.

Through the findings of archeologists, people from the past can speak to us today. What did people eat? Did they hunt elk, pronghorn, deer, rabbits? Gather plants and berries? Grow crops? Did they weave cloth? Trade with others? How long did they live? Were they healthy? Modern archeologists use both shovels and high tech tools to answer questions like these. Sometimes there are glimpses, through the artifacts left behind, of how a society functioned, or what its people believed.It is up to all of us to preserve the archeological story. Each fragment, each stone structure is a unique piece of the past. Please leave them undisturbed.

An unpatterned black and red ceramic bowl against a black background
A Sunset Red bowl found at Wupatki National Monument



Almost everywhere that clay was available, agricultural societies developed the skill of pottery manufacture. In the southwestern United States, pottery making was a household industry. This resulted in the production of large amounts of pottery, much of which still exists today. Remnant pieces of pottery, called sherds or potsherds, are common across the region, and are difficult to destroy. One of the reasons, then, that archeologists spend so much time studying pottery, is that it exists in much larger quantities than highly perishable materials such as baskets, clothing, or other organic material. When examining pottery of different cultures, archeologists study the clays and other materials used, the manufacturing methods, and the types of decoration.

Types of pots
Over 500 types of pottery have been classified in the Southwest. More than fifty have been found just in the Flagstaff area. There is a formal naming system for pottery, each type having a geographic designation followed by a description. Examples found here are Sunset Red, Sunset Corrugated, and Flagstaff Black-on-White.
The presence of so many pottery types in the region has long intrigued archeologists. It was first believed that there had been a massive migration of members of many cultures into the area. Now it is considered more likely that there was extensive trade occurring, of both pots and techniques for making and decorating them.

Archeologists are still working in the area and recording the various kinds of pottery found. Please help them by leaving undisturbed any pottery fragments or other artifacts you find while visiting Walnut Canyon, Wupatki and Sunset Crater Volcano National Monuments.

Last updated: March 1, 2022

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