Trusted local news leader for the Grand Canyon
Sat, Nov. 16

Area archeological discoveries rewrite local history<br>

Pictured from left are University of Cincinnati Archeology student Adam Archual, Forest Service spokesperson Cathie Schmidlin, Dr. Alan Sullivan, and Arizona State University intern Matt Rippey, as Dr. Sullivan points out the hard-to-see Grand Canyon Indian ruins at their feet. Dr. Sullivan and his team’s discoveries are changing the way many think about ancient Native American lifestyles.

Sullivan’s team uses new technology — the Global Positioning System, or GPS — to plot the sites they are discovering on a regular basis.

“We’re writing new chapters in archeology,” Sullivan announced. He went on to explain that computer models are used to indicate where dwellings should be based on past research. “There are sites that exist, but aren’t on the models and there are areas in the models where sites should be but aren’t. That leaves us with the impression that it was very extemporaneous living.”

Another contradiction — one of the biggest — was that the tribes that inhabited the upper basin, which includes Hopi, Navajo and many others, were not the corn growers we thought they were. Preserved vegetation is a common find at most Indian ruins and is one of many tools used to theorize what past inhabitants survived on. Very little corn was found. Instead, evidence suggests that the tribes gathered and ate the naturally growing foods around them.

So where did the theory of subsisting on only corn come from?

“Most of the Native American tribes were already growing corn,” said Sullivan. “That process was accelerated when the United States government took over management of the Indians. When the government started putting them in concentrated areas, they grew corn in those areas. Archeologists from the eastern part of the United States came out, saw that these people were growing corn where they didn’t think it could grow and said ‘Wow, these people must have been growing corn for centuries.’ True, but not that many centuries.”

Much of the evidence gained over the past 15 years also indicates that the Grand Canyon Indian tribes, who, it is suggested, lived mostly in single-family dwellings, often ventured into the floor of the canyon and frequently traded with tribes living as far south as Williams and even Sycamore Canyon. The same evidence also points to the tribes doing controlled burns much like we do today and, as Sullivan puts it, “… extensively modifying their environment on purpose.”

The past, however, isn’t all that Sullivan and his team are concerned with. They are also worried about the future — specifically, the future of current archeological sites and sites they have yet to discover.

“The impact of modern recreation is horrible,” states Sullivan. “Heritage resources suffer the most.”

Campers have been found dismantling old pueblo sites to build hearths for campfires. Illegal wood-cutters and hunters often inadvertently destroy preserved ruins, and heavy vehicle tracks have been found going directly over or disturbingly near plotted sites. Sullivan feels that part of the problem is that there is an alarming failure to explain to the public what constitutes an archeological site.

“What’s fun about upper basin archeology is that you find something new every day,” Sullivan said.

The professor said he and his student teams have published several dozen papers and plans to continue his research as long as he can walk.

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