Archeology at the Grand Canyon- Split Twig Figurines

Split twig figurines are a fascinating look at the prehistoric people who called the Grand Canyon home.

Visiting the Desert View Watchtower
Hopi culture at the Grand Canyon
Historic trip of John Wesley Powell
Two split-twig figurines made from willow branches bent into the shape of game animals (left - deer and right sheep)

Split-Twig Figurines

  • Some of the most fascinating artifacts found here in the Grand Canyon are split-twig figurines.
  • Each one is made from a single twig, often willow, split down the middle, and then carefully folded into animal shapes.
  • These figurines date from 2,000 to 4,000 years ago and were found in remote caves.

Often they are in the shape of deer or bighorn sheep, sometimes with horns or antlers. Occasionally, they are pierced with another stick, resembling a spear, or are stuffed with artiodactyl dung. Split-twig figurines have been found in dry caves in the Great Basin and on the Colorado Plateau, and were first recognized in the Grand Canyon in 1933.

–While their exact function remains a mystery, recent research suggests that split-twig —-figurines were totems associated with the Late Archaic hunting and gathering culture. Their occurrence in remote, relatively inaccessible uninhabited caves indicates that these figurines were not toys. They are usually found under rock cairns, indicating careful placement.

You may view some of these amazing and ancient figurines at the Tusayan Museum in the park at Desert View. (South Rim) Download the Desert View Map here (235kb PDF File)

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