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Glen Canyon Project - Archeological Surveys

Glen Canyon "has always been a lonesome place."

“Most architectural forms in Glen Canyon and its tributaries were for food storage;“…the smoldering ruins of a small granary or a thin camp site where a few sherds remained.” “Few dwellings were [ever] found.” 

“The archaeological findings fell far short of our imaginings.”

"However, greater resources and the higher densities of dwellings were located at the higher elevations were presumably there was richer biota, better soils and apparently heavier precipitation."

Dr. Jesse Jennings, University of Utah, Glen Canyon Project

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"It was on the upland mesas and platforms that we felt would be found the permanent homes of the prehistoric inhabitants of riverine sites whose meager cultural leavings we had encountered so often."

Alexander Lindsay, J. Richard Ambler, Mary Anne Stein, Philip Hobler - Glen Canyon Series #8

kiva
Upland Kiva - Never Covered by the waters of Lake Powell

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Overview - Glen Canyon Project - Archeological and Historical Surveys

During late 1957 the Glen Canyon Project came into being for the salvage of cultural and natural history of the area to be flooded and utilized by the creation of the Glen Canyon Dam. Between 1957 and 1966, one hundred and sixty-one monograms and technical papers were published. Over 2,000 sites were identified across a broad general area in southern Utah and northern Arizona.

(Editor's note: The 2,000 site number is widely quoted even though most of these sites were never covered by water and lay above the full pool level of Lake Powell.)

The Museum of Northern Arizona surveying the archeological sites south of the Colorado River produced a series of publications entitled "Glen Canyon Series No. #".

The University of Utah research of the north side of the river appeared in a series of papers in the University of Utah Anthropological Papers.

Dr. C. Gregory Crampton, University of Utah Anthropology Department, conducted Glen Canyon Historic Sites Surveys.

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Glen Canyon:  An Archaeological Summary

Jesse Jennings
1998, The University of Utah Press (originally published in 1966)

Background: 

Between 1957 and 1962, teams of researchers from the University of Utah and the Museum of Northern Arizona labored in Glen Canyon trying to learn as much as possible about its geology, ecology, archaeology, ethnohistory and history. 

The Glen Canyon Project was initiated under the Archaeological Salvage program of the National Park Service.  The Project lasted six years and over 200 persons were on the payroll including 26 members of the Navajo Nation.  Between 1957 and 1966, one hundred and sixty-one monograms and technical papers were published.  Over 2,000 sites were identified across a broad general area in southern Utah and northern Arizona.

In 1966, Dr. Jennings published the archaeological summary of Glen Canyon in which he described that the “true genius of the [Anasazi] culture” were not the big ruins like Mesa Verde and Keet Seel.  Instead, it was the “many generations of small farmers who harvested many wild foods and skillfully exploited scant water resources near small areas of arable soil.”

The Anasazi were “desert foragers who had learned to farm both wild and domesticated plants” and that the evidence of Glen Canyon seems to argue that every member of the Anasazi population was quick to exploit changes in moisture or other climatic change. Hardy annuals such as beans, corn, squash and sunflower provided part of the diet.  Cotton was common in the later time periods. 

Professor Jennings spent seven summers on the Glen Canyon Project.  “The vastness, the isolation, the stillness, the overwhelming beauty of the land, even the heat, the still starlight nights, the blue or brassy midday sky, all combined to make me constantly aware of my good fortune.  To be sure, I never forgot that it was a dangerous land and that poor judgment or forgetting the water could bring disaster.”

Dr. Jennings passed away in November 1997.

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Summary Statements:

Glen Canyon “has always been a lonesome place. The area cannot certainly be shown to have been much utilized by man prior to the Christian era.”

Canyon dwellers were perhaps a succession of farmers who did not dwell in permanent houses or who were merely summer visitors.  Occupancy was not continuous or equally distributed throughout the area.  In arid regions such as Glen Canyon, the distribution of water controls the distribution of living forms. The picture of attenuated oases set deep within a sandy rocky waste is accurate enough. That the Pueblo understood water collection and storage and distribution is known from Mesa Verde.  Little villages must have occurred wherever there was enough fertile soil to permit crops.

However, greater resources and the higher densities of dwellings were located at the higher elevations were presumably there was richer biota, better soils and apparently heavier precipitation. In the lands above 4500-5000 feet in elevation, the pinon and juniper regime dominates.

“As Glen Canyon research progressed, authors tended more and more to speak of the canyon dwellers as being an overflow population pushed into a marginal environment or as Long (1965) would hypothesize the lower sites might have been” temporary farmsteads visited only in summer by plateau dwellers to the south.”  Adams (1961) identified over 30 trails in lower Glen Canyon below the mouth of the San Juan river.

Studies convincingly show that a substantial percentage of the number of botanical species found today in the Glen Canyon area has been used by historic tribes as food, medicine and tools.  Clark (1966) lists over 920 species reported from the Glen Canyon area and shows that over 390 of these species (not including lichens and mosses) are known from ethnographic accounts to have been used by modern Pueblo tribes.  The archaeological debris show that all large and small mammals and some birds – but rarely – fish were also taken.  The bones of mountain sheep are the most common, outnumbering deer by about seven to one.

“Most architectural forms in Glen Canyon and its tributaries were for food storage;“…the smoldering ruins of a small granary or a thin camp site where a few sherds remained.” “Few dwellings were [ever] found.” 

“The archaeological findings fell far short of our imaginings.”

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The genius of the Anasazi culture lay not in ceramics, handicrafts, architecture or religion but in the horticulture that was added to the ancient foraging skills.