Glen Canyon

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Glen Canyon
Glen Canyon in 1873, near the confluence of the Colorado and San Juan Rivers

Glen Canyon is a canyon that is located in southeastern and south central Utah and northwestern Arizona within the Vermilion Cliffs area. An immense area located north of the Grand Canyon, it too was carved by the Colorado River.

A reservoir, Lake Powell, was created by the Glen Canyon Dam. Glen Canyon Dam was completed in 1963, destroying much of Glen Canyon. Lake Powell emerged from a struggle over damming Dinosaur National Monument. The Sierra Club and its leader, David Brower, were instrumental in blocking the dam in Dinosaur, ignoring Glen Canyon in the process. Before Glen Canyon was flooded, but after the struggle in Congress, Brower floated the canyon and realized what a tremendous resource it was. This experience transformed Brower's attitude towards environmental preservation, making him more radical and less likely to compromise. It was very similar to the experience of John Muir with the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir. For Brower, it steeled him for the battle over a dam in the Grand Canyon. Beginning in the late 1990s, the Sierra Club and other organizations renewed the call to drain Lake Powell in Lower Glen Canyon.

Pre-dam history and rescue archaeology[edit]

Glen Canyon

Around 1956, archaeologists and biologists from the University of Utah and the Museum of Northern Arizona, using National Park research grants, planned an emergency excavation of Lower Glen Canyon, which was soon to be flooded by the new Glen Canyon Dam. Between 1958 and 1960, four investigative phases, combined with other surveys prior to 1957, discovered 250 sites. Beginning in 1958, the Lower Glen Canyon survey was finished.

Excavations[edit]

Excavations began during the summer of 1958 on 16 sites. A thesis emerged that prehistoric people living permanently on the highlands south of Glen Canyon, and on the Cummings Mesa, farmed the Lower Glen Canyon on a seasonal basis, and gathered raw materials. To prove this thesis of seasonal habitation, criteria such as architectural units, locations of trail systems, occurrence of ceremonial structures, prevalence of burials, and position of natural and cultural strata. Four types of sites are described in the survey classified as either open sites situated on rock terraces; talus sites on broken material below cliffs; shelter sites in protected areas under overhanging cliffs; and cliff sites beneath ledges or in caves and canyon walls. Open sites are the majority on both sides of the river. The majority of sites, mostly Navajo camps, feature lithic garbage or ceramics, or both. Talus sites are rarely recorded.

Most of the cultural remains found are chipped stone tools (lithic materials), including projectile points, scrapers, drills, knives, choppers, and ground stone tools and manos (grinders). The collection of sherds are mostly Tusayan Gray Ware and Tusayan White Ware. Petroglyph panels are found throughout Glen Canyon. “Pecked and incised figures depict mountain sheep, human figures, birds, human handprints and animal tracks. Geometric figures range from circles and spirals to highly complex rectilinear patterns. The human figures have triangular bodies. Painted figures have been reported for both sides of the river.... Petroglyph panels of such quality are lacking from the highland regions adjacent to Glen Canyon” (Long 61).

Prehistoric cultural periods[edit]

Studies indicate a chronology for the Lower Glen Canyon prehistory, “from pre-A.D. 1 to the 15th century and recorded history from 1776 to the present” (Long 61).

Most of the ceramic material found in the main canyon was probably made in the highlands, although it is possible some pottery was manufactured in Lower Glen Canyon. Clay deposits are found along the river, and some crude pottery specimens, that may have been made there. Only four burials were found in Lower Glen Canyon at three sites. Trash dumps are not very common at most sites. This is more evidence to suggest the seasonal occupation of hunters and farmers.

Historic periods[edit]

Recorded history begins with the Dominguez-Escalante expedition in 1776.

Cultural similarities are based on the presence, or absence, of certain types of ceramic wares. (Long 63). Group types of pottery include Kayenta (Tusayan and Tsegi Orange Ware), Virgin (San Juan Red and White Wares), with Fremont, and Mesa Verde or Anasazi types of White and Desert Gray Ware found mostly on the right bank of Colorado. Basketmaker II is characterized by a lack of pottery, and above ground and underground cists lined with slabs.

There is very little evidence of permanent occupation except at Talus Ruin, a small pueblo with a kiva, a ceremonial structure, made mostly of masonry, featuring jacal walls of sticks and reeds set in mortar in a single row of masonry. The presence of metates are evidence that campsites with slab-lined hearths being inhabited for longer periods. Agricultural structures are not found in the main lower canyon, and no formalized fields are found in the main canyon because of alleviation and slope wash burying (Long, 66). Houses, when found, were mostly sandstone slab with mortar, having one to seven rooms. “Well constructed mealing bins which usually denote permanency were lacking in the Lower Glen Canyon. In contrast, on Cummings Mesa at Surprise Pueblo, there was one entire room devoted to mealing bins…” (Long 65). In the highlands, granaries were near or incorporated into permanent Pueblos, compared with smaller ones near temporary sites in the Canyon (Long 66). “Home Base” pueblos in the nearby highlands on Cummings Mesa and Paiute Mesa are believed to support the temporary farming and the hunting parties who used an extensive trail system in the main canyon, still in use today.

Natural resources for tool-making[edit]

“Stone tool manufacturing appears to have been an important industry for the entire Glen Canyon region, perhaps one of the major reasons for occupation” (Long 66). Cryptocrystalline rocks fill the Pleistocene gravel beds on the Carmel platforms. Scattered lithic tools and materials indicate workshops of various sizes. There is a lack of siliceous material in the highlands, but tools are found there made from the gravel beds in the river.

There are very few ground stone artifacts, such as manos, metates, and scrapers, found in the main canyon, since these tools are mainly found in the highlands. In the main canyon, a large number of chipped implements, ranging from small arrowheads to large knives, are found. Finished tools, and possibly blanks taken to the mesa, were probably used for trade.

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Coordinates: 37°15′15″N 110°52′42″W / 37.25417°N 110.87833°W / 37.25417; -110.87833