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Glen Canyon

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 Edward Abbey documented his experience exploring Glen Canyon from the Colorado River prior to the completion of Glen Canyon Dam in his memoir Desert Solitaire in the chapter titled Down the River.


  • Pre-dam history and rescue archaeology 1
    • Excavations 1.1
    • Prehistoric cultural periods 1.2
    • Historic periods 1.3
    • Natural resources for tool-making 1.4
  • See also 2
  • References 3
  • External links 4
  • Further reading 5

Pre-dam history and rescue archaeology

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 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

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).

  • A Late Basketmaker II Era (generally AD 50-500) is represented by several sites. Radiocarbon dates from charcoal material are from A.D. 250 to 440 (plus or minus 80 years). Basketmaker III is not found in the Lower Glen Canyon, but is documented in Navajo Canyon, a large left bank tributary of the Colorado River, within the geographical area of the Lower Glen Canyon (Long 62). Basketmaker III introduces fired pottery, mostly Lino Black-on-gray and Lino Gray, and some small amounts of Lino Fugitive Red and Obelisk Gray. The Basketmaker culture is believed to have lasted later than Pueblo I.
  • Pueblo I Era (AD 750-900) remains are found at Rock Creek in Lower Glen Canyon, and in Navajo Canyon. The pottery types are Kana-a Black-on-white, Deadmans Black-on-red, and Kana-a Gray, made from deposits found in Lizard Alcove. Pueblo I is the best documented period of Navajo Canyon, beginning in 800 A.D, lasting 200 years. “Pueblo II in Navajo Canyon is represented by the absence of Kana-a Black-on-white and the dominance of Black Mesa Black-on-white” (Long 62).
  • Pueblo II (AD 900-1100) and early Pueblo III is the best documented cultural area in Lower Glen Canyon corresponding with habitation on Cummings Mesa. Pottery includes mostly Tusayan varieties, Black-on-white, Black-on-red, and Red Wear Polychromes.
  • Hopi people from the Jeddito area came into the canyons in the 14th century, represented by Yellow Wares, mostly Jeddito Black-on-yellow, and Jeddito plain.

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

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

“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.

See also


  • Jennings, Jesse D. Glen Canyon: An Archaeological Summary. University of Utah Press, Salt Lake City, Utah, 1966, republished 1998. ISBN 0-87480-584-8.
  • Long, Paul V. Jr. Archaeological Excavations in Lower Glen Canyon, Utah, 1959-1960. Museum of Northern Arizona Bulletin No. 42 – Glen Canyon Series No. 7. The Northern Arizona Society of Science and Art (Flagstaff, 1966)

External links

  • information from the Glen Canyon Institute
  • Glen Canyon Natural History Association

Further reading

  • Crampton, C. Gregory. Ghosts of Glen Canyon: History Beneath Lake Powell, revised edition (2009). ISBN 978-0-87480-946-6
  • Eliot Porter (Photographer), Daniel P Beard (Preface), David Brower (Foreword) (Eds., 1997). The Place No One Knew - Glen Canyon on the Colorado Publisher: Gibbs Smith, Publisher; Cmv edition (July 21, 2000). ISBN 978-0-87905-971-2.
  • Fowler, Don D. The Glen Canyon Country, (2011). ISBN 978-1-60781-134-3
  • Abbey, Edward. "Desert Solitaire", chapter 12, "Down the River", (1968) Publisher: McGraw-Hill. ISBN 978-0-345-25021-6

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