Archaeological Sites

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Archaeological Sites in Canyons of the Ancients National Monument

Deep KivaThousands of archaeological sites dot the diverse landscapes of the Four Corners region. Canyons of the Ancients National Monument is the most archaeologically dense area in the United States with over 6000 recorded sites and up to 100 per square mile in some places. These sites represent the Ancestral Puebloan and other Native American cultures. The Monument is managed as an integral cultural landscape containing a wealth of historic and environmental resources.

Auto routes through the Monument are few; most roads are unpaved and rough. Most of archaeological sites in this "outdoor museum" are not apparent to the untrained eye and precise locations are not publicized. This is a place to explore on your own.

Saving Archaeological Sites

Well-intentioned visitors to archaeological sites sometimes cause lasting damage because they don't know how to behave in these fragile places. Make sure this doesn't happen to you! The following information is taken by permission from the book Enemy Ancestors by Gary Matlock:

Puebloan ceramic ollaARTIFACTS: The most common disturbance to surface sites is the collection of pottery sherds and chipped stones-- either taking them home or moving them from one part of the site to another. Pottery sherds provide one of the primary methods of dating surface ruins, help determine the cultural affiliation of the people, and identify trade patterns and work areas. The loss or movement of surface artifacts seriously affects an archaeologist's ability to understand a site. Examine artifacts in place and leave them where you found them.

ROCK ART: Another type of site frequently damaged both deliberately or inadvertently are the many rock art panels and individual designs found on cliff walls and near many ruins. Pictographs, rock art made by applying colored clays and pigments in designs and decorations, are the most fragile. They are easily flaked away from the surface of the rock. Please, never touch rock art panels.

Masonry structure in CANMCLIFF DWELLINGS: Cliff dwellings and other sites with existing masonry walls, floors and roofs are the ones most likely to attract visitors. They are very susceptible to both environmental and human damage. Most damage to these sites comes from climbing onto and around them. Walking or sitting on, kicking, or leaning against walls may not immediately cause them to fall, but does dislodge small amounts of mortar and loose stones. With repeated use, the stone and mortar will be lost and the entire wall will fall. With the wall may go a room or a series of connected rooms. It is best not to climb on walls and to avoid going into parts of the ruin that require stepping on walls and other features.

MIDDEN: Down the slope from most ancient villages is an area of prehistoric trash, charcoal and other debris which archaeologists call the midden. Artifacts in these deposits are layered in such a way that they contain a great deal of information about the history of the site. Middens are one of the most important parts of the site. Care should be taken not to walk on these deposits or cause them to be mixed in any way.

Visit with Respect

A Native American Stewardship Message

Visit with Respect
Video (9:31) 
Video Transcript


Artist in Residence

Hear Cellist Esther Rogers play and discuss her month exploring Canyons of the Ancients through the Aldo & Leonardo Project, sponsored by the Colorado Art Ranch and the Aldo Leopold Wilderness Research Institute. Recorded by Dryland Community Radio Station KSJD.


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