Most people, when they first hear the words “Grand Canyon,” envision a wilderness area with spectacular rock formations that tell an important geo
Most people, when they first hear the words “Grand Canyon,” envision a wilderness area with spectacular rock formations that tell an important geological story. Few people realize that humans have continuously occupied the Grand Canyon for at least the past 4,000 years, and that humans have lived in the region for the past 12,000 years. Reflecting this long period of habitation, the Grand Canyon has been the site of important archaeological discoveries that tell the long story of human life in North America. So far, the National Park Service (NPS) has only intensively surveyed 5% of the park area, but they have already documented 4,800 archaeological sites, meaning many more remain to be cataloged. The Park Service interprets this long human history of the Grand Canyon to visitors primarily at the Tusayan Ruin and Museum near the eastern end of the park
With NPS permission, archaeologists from Gila Pueblo in Globe, Arizona, excavated the site in 1930. The group pledged to build a museum nearby to interpret the site, and agreed that at least half of any artifacts they uncovered would remain at the Grand Canyon. Originally named the Wayside Museum of Archaeology, the Tusayan Museum is now a small, square, two-room building made mostly of stone with some wooden beams. It looks like it could have blended in seamlessly with the Puebloan settlement 800 years ago.
Today, exhibits cover both the archaeological and modern history of five major tribes associated with the Grand Canyon (the Havasupai, Hopi, Hualapai, Navajo, and Paiute), emphasizing their enduring, strong cultural connections to the area. One of the most significant exhibits is a display of split twig figurines dating back 2,000 to 4,000 years. Though they were not found at Tusayan Ruin itself, these figurines collected from caves in the Grand Canyon speak to the long human presence at the Grand Canyon and its use by Native Americans.
Visitors to the site can take a self-guided tour around the ruins, enjoy daily interpretive ranger talks there, or meander through the small museum. Anyone who encounters any archaeological site at the Canyon is encouraged to leave it undisturbed and report it to the National Park Service immediately so that archaeologists can document, study, and preserve it for future generations.
Article credit: Sarah Bohl Gerke