Printer Friendly

Digging into the past.

Archaeological projects give visitors a chance to unearth artifacts at several national parks.

TO THE NAKED EYE, the landscape around the Anasazi ruins of Chaco Culture National Historical Park in New Mexico offers sagebrush and a dusty canyon. To archaeologists, the area's vegetation offers something more--clues to 1,000 miles of ancient roads that until recently were thought to serve only utilitarian functions for the Anasazi of a millennia ago.

Using aerial remote sensing devices that detect subtle changes in vegetation, archaeologists discovered in the late 1980s that the Anasazi road system is far more extensive and complex than originally believed. Some archaeologists now infer that the roads also had ceremonial functions and were built to replicate the landscape described in Native American origin myths.

Remote sensing has for decades aided the study and preservation of archaeological sites through devices such as aerial photography or thermal sensors. In a 1993 Department of Interior report to Congress, the National Park Service (NPS) also said it used remote sensing equipment to enforce the Archaeological Resources Protection Act. The act prohibits the removal, damage, alteration, defacement, or trafficking of archaeological resources on federal land. As a protective measure against looting, remote sensing is used to monitor several park units, including Amistad National Recreation Area in Texas and Wupatki and Canyon de Chelly national monuments in Arizona.

Although the 1994 archaeological season includes a remote sensing survey of Jamestown Island in Virginia, the trowel and the whisk broom are still effective tools for uncovering the hidden pasts of national parks. Several park units host archaeological excavations this year.

Klondike Gold Rush

Conservationist John Muir once called the miners of the 1897-1898 Klondike Gold Rush "a nest of ants taken into a strange country and stirred up by a stick." Lured by the promise of an endless supply of gold nuggets in Alaska's Klondike River, an estimated 30,000 prospectors boarded ships at Seattle and other ports and headed north, settling in the shack town of Skagway.

Established in 1980, Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park preserves historic structures in Skagway as well as the Chilkoot and White Pass trails, treacherous routes that led miners to the Yukon Territory. Before renovations of any of Skagway's historic buildings begin, archaeologists study soil layers and rotted foundations for clues to miner life during and after the gold rush.

This year, an excavation in the town of Skagway will focus on the house of J. Bernard Moore, son of the founder of Skagway. Previous archaeological digs at the Moore house have uncovered trenches cut for housing foundations and portions of the homemade dresses and long underwear of Moore's wife, clothing used to chink the logs of their cabin. Park visitors are invited to watch archaeologists as they excavate, and the site is part of ranger-led walking tours.

An ongoing project at the Chilkoot Trail will survey and map the section stretching from Pleasant to Sheep Camp. Thousands of artifacts such as boots, tin cans, bedsprings, horseshoes and bones, and broken china and stemware can still be seen along the historic Chilkoot Trail and should not be disturbed. The Park Service warns that the trail is not for inexperienced hikers.

Primitive campsites are located near Skagway, and other overnight accommodations are available in both cities. Although neither section of the park offers meals, groceries and limited supplies can be bought in Skagway. For more information, contact the Superintendent, Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park, P.O. Box 517, Skagway, AK 99840, 907-983-2921.

Mesa Verde

About 1,400 years ago, a group of Puebloan Indians, known to us as the Anasazi, lived on and around the Mesa Verde Plateau in southwestern Colorado. They developed settlements composed of cliff dwellings, crop fields, and underground ceremonial rooms called kivas. They were proficient potters, toolmakers, and basket-weavers. But by the end of the 13th century, the Anasazi had abandoned Mesa Verde.

For the past nine years, the Crow Canyon Archaeological Center, located ten miles from Mesa Verde National Park, has focused its excavations on the Anasazi occupation. A nonprofit research and preservation organization, Crow Canyon offers archaeological expeditions to the public. This year, the center expands its study to determine how larger villages were formed and when and why the region was abandoned. Some villages, archaeologists have found, seem to have come together quickly whereas others date back to earlier settlements. It is unclear whether the Anasazi abandoned the area gradually in the mid-1200s or suddenly several decades later.

Each week-long expedition at Crow Canyon begins with an introduction to the prehistory of the Southwest as well as archaeologist-led tours of the area. A day of lab work, during which participants wash, sort, analyze, and catalog artifacts, is followed by two days of excavation alongside seasoned archaeologists. Using trowels and whisk brooms, participants may uncover potsherds, stone tools, and other ancient archaeological remains. The final day of the expedition may be spent excavating or touring Mesa Verde National Park. Some evenings have planned archaeological lectures and programs; others are free for sightseeing.

Participants stay and eat at the Crow Canyon lodge. For more information, call Crow Canyon toll free at 1-800-422-8975. The park also offers hiking, camping, tours, and other programs. The Morefield campground is open for tents and trailers, and groceries, souvenirs, meals, gasoline, showers, and laundry facilities are all available at the site. Other overnight lodging and dining halls are located at Far View. For more information, contact the Superintendent, Mesa Verde National Park, CO 81330, 303-529-4465.

Big South Fork National River

Long before rafters, kayakers, hikers, and other recreational users traversed the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area in Tennessee and Kentucky, loggers and miners sought timber and coal in the area. As they built logging camps and mining communities, they laid roads that crisscrossed the tablelands of the Big South Fork without regard to cultural resources below the surface.

NPS acquired the land in the mid-1970s to manage and protect. Although many of the old roads are now covered with vegetation, a Park Service survey unearthed some prehistoric sites in dirt roadways that were on the verge of being destroyed by periodic maintenance and off-road vehicles.

This discovery prompted NPS and Roane State Community College to develop the Summer Public Archaeology Program to locate archaeological sites in roadways and to recover the remains and record their archaeological content before it is destroyed by modern uses.

Stonework found during previous digs has led archaeologists to believe that these sites served specialized functions. The number of unused arrowheads and other projectile points found in one spot, for instance, indicates that activities at the site focused on tool maintenance and manufacture. Different types of stone pieces found at another site offer clues to the migration patterns of prehistoric communities.

Since only an estimated 10 percent of the archaeological resources of the region have been inventoried, the program is ongoing. Old logging roads are open for hiking and horseback riding. The park has three major campgrounds--the Alum Ford campground has no water--as well as backcountry camping and lodging at Charit Creek. Although no meals are served in the park, food, supplies, and other overnight lodging are available in nearby towns in Tennessee and Kentucky. For more information, contact the Superintendent, Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area, Rt. 3, Box 401, Oneida, TN 37841, 615-569-9778.

Mammoth Cave

Between 2,000 and 3,000 years ago, the entrance of Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky provided shelter but also yielded gypsum and other salts. The cave, encompassing 350 miles of underground passages, was also mined for saltpeter and other minerals around the time of the War of 1812 and was later used as a hospital to treat tuberculosis.

This year, Mammoth Cave is the site of four archaeological expeditions sponsored by Earthwatch, an organization that recruits volunteers to serve as assistants to scientists on research quests worldwide. The objective of the cave research is to document the location and condition of archaeological resources so that management strategies can be developed to protect them. This exploration is unusual in that artifacts are not buried and thus require no excavation. In the cave's 12 miles of passageways identified as archaeologically significant, survey parties of ten people will locate, photograph, map, and videotape cultural remains.

In addition to saltpeter mining works and huts associated with the hospital, many artifacts, such as cane torches and digging sticks, can be found in the cave sediment, along with squash and gourd containers, baskets, bags, and twine. Also found at the cave are prehistoric desiccated human excrement known as paleofeces, which provide information on what early cave users ate.

After hours, archaeologists, biologists, park rangers, and others give presentations on different aspects of Mammoth Cave. Teams stay in the park lodge at the Maple Springs Research Center north of the Green River in the park. For more information, contact Earthwatch at 680 Mount Auburn Street, Box 403, Watertown, MA 02272. Visitors can also take part in guided cave tours, hike on 70 miles of trails, or camp at one of the more than 100 campsites. Meals, supplies, gasoline, and lodging are available at the Mammoth Cave Hotel Complex. For more information, contact the Superintendent, Mammoth Cave National Park, Mammoth Cave, KY 42259, 502-758-2328.

Ozark National Scenic Riverways

The more than 134 miles of Ozark National Scenic Riverways in Missouri are located amid swamplands to the south, tallgrass prairie and great plains to the west and north, and hardwood forests to the east. Because of its location, the park, comprising the Jacks Fork and Current rivers, is thought to contain a variety of archaeologically significant sites that date from the Ice Age to America's Civil War.

The two major archaeological projects at Ozark this year are sponsored by the Park Service's Midwest Archaeological Center. Similar to the excavations at Big South Fork, the first project completes a multi-year investigation of a Middle Archaic period (5,000 to 3,000 B.C.) site threatened by road improvements near the park's Big Spring Campground. Large-scale excavations of the site are performed cooperatively by archaeologists and students from NPS and the University of Missouri. This excavation will provide the first detailed and carefully recorded data on occupation of the Current River Valley during the Middle Archaic period.

Similar to the Mammoth Cave project, a five-year study of the approximately 200 caves along the Current and the Jacks Fork rivers begins this year. The first three seasons will locate caves with archaeological deposits; the latter two years will feature limited excavations where deposits are found. Archaeologists believe that many human uses of the caves will be documented. One cave, for instance, was used as a makeshift hospital during the Civil War. Floral, faunal, and pollen data relating to environmental change since the Ice Age will also be collected.

For more information, contact Mark J. Lynott, NPS Midwest regional archaeologist, at 402-437-5392. Many miles of old logging roads are open for hiking, including nine miles of the Ozark Trail. The park also offers camping areas, stores, canoe and boat rentals, showers, food, and supplies. Restaurants and lodging are also available in nearby towns. For more information, contact the Superintendent, Ozark National Scenic Riverways, P.O. Box 490, Van Buren, MO 63965, 314-323-4236.

Kim A. O'Connell is news editor for National Parks magazine.
COPYRIGHT 1994 National Parks Conservation Association
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1994 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:artifacts dug from national parks
Author:O'Connell, Kim A.
Publication:National Parks
Date:Sep 1, 1994
Previous Article:The war on waste.
Next Article:Making strides.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2018 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters