Walnut Canyon Archeology

The forests surrounding Walnut Canyon National Monument contain hundreds of archeological sites and artifacts.A few are Archaic sites, showing that people were here between 2500 B.C. and A.D. 1. But most are from a prehistoric farming culture that flourished around Flagstaff from about A.D. 600 until 1400.To archeologists, this was part of the Sinagua culture, from the Spanish "sin agua" meaning without water.Sinagua refers to various archeological sites and objects, found in this part of Arizona, that share similar characteristics. It is not the name of a tribe or clan of people. In fact, we have no idea how these people thought of themselves and their neighbors, or what they called themselves.

At first, scattered families grew corn, squash, and beans above the canyon rim. In the late 1000s, following the eruption of nearby Sunset Crater Volcano, the population began to grow. In about 1150, many people started moving down into Walnut Canyon, where they built the cliff dwellings that line the canyon walls today. There was water at times in Walnut Creek, and the canyon held a rich assortment of plants and animals that could be harvested.

The Walnut Canyon community thrived here for about 150 years, growing crops in small plots above the rim, raising children, making stone tools and implements, and following the ancient ceremonial cycles that had been passed down for generations. Then they moved on. By the early 1300s, the canyon ledges were quiet.

The Walnut Canyon cliff dwellings are unique, the only known such remains of the northern Sinagua culture. Constructed in rock alcoves within the canyon, they protected their occupants from the elements. Almost 700 years later, their walls and the artifacts within are still remarkably well preserved. We can learn much from these dwellings and from the many masonry pueblos, rock shelters, campsites, agricultural fields, and objects still in place at Walnut Canyon National Monument.

Learn more about the study of pottery.

Last updated: March 31, 2012

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