5 things to look for at Native American sites
Tuesday, October 17, 2017
Humans have lived in North America for more than 15,000 years and have left evidence of their life in many places and in many ways.
While traveling the United States, you can find many great places to visit to understand Native American history. Below are different types of dwellings, art and other traces of their life, along with examples of locations to see them.
Bandelier National Monument in New Mexico.
Most early Native American homes have disappeared since they were built using wood, grasses, mud or hides. However, the ruins of cliff dwellings or stone buildings still exist in many places along with evidence of where people lived in caves. These include:
- Bandelier National Monument (look for the 4-feet deep paths)
- Canyon de Chelly National Monument
- Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument
- Mesa Verde National Park (perhaps the biggest and best)
- Russell Cave National Monument (used for thousands of years)
- Tuzigoot National Monument
- Walnut Canyon National Monument
- Wupatki National Monument
Etowah Indian Mounds in Georgia.
The work required to make these mounds is staggering, yet there are hundreds of mounds scattered around the United States. Some are burial mounds, while others appear to be used for ceremonies or a high point for the chief to live and view the surrounding area. Each one seems a bit different in height, area and shape.
Some ones that stand out to me are:
- Effigy Mounds National Monument (animal shaped mounds)
- Etowah Indian Mounds (60 feet high)
- Emerald Mound Site
- Fort Ancient, Kolomoki Mounds (57 feet high)
- Letchworth-Love Mounds Archaeological State Park (50 feet high)
- Mound Cemetery, Newark Earthworks
- Pikes Peak State Park (animal shaped mounds)
- Pinson Mounds (72 feet high)
- Toltec Mounds Archaeological State Park
Note that some parks allow you to walk on the mounds, while others forbid it or have stairs to use to reduce wear.
Also, middens are a special type of mound make of discarded materials such as shells from clams, oysters, and snails. These are found in many places along the ocean.
3. Ceremonial meeting places
Casa Grande Ruins National Monument in Arizona.
Some locations don't seem to be homes but may have been used for ceremonies, measurement of astronomical sights like solstices, a meeting place for trade or even a place for competitions. These meeting places include:
- Casa Grande Ruins National Monument
- Old Stone Fort State Archaeological Park
Seminole Canyon State Park & Historic Site in Texas.
No one really knows the purpose of petroglyphs and pictographs. Were these used as art, communication such as recording animal kills, or aspects of a ceremony? What do the pictures depict? You can come up with your own theories by examining it yourself.
Petroglyphs are made by pecking or carving away stone or rock varnish, while pictographs are made by using natural tints like charcoal, limonite and hematite to paint on the rock. By the way, pictographs are fading away from the sun and acidic rain in many locations, so make a point to visit now.
Petroglyphs can be found many places such as:
- Painted Rock Petroglyph Site
- Newspaper Rock State Historic Monument
- Petrified Forest National Park
- Petroglyph National Monument
- Saguaro National Park
- Three Rivers Petroglyph Site
Good places for pictographs include:
- Big Bend National Park
- Petit Jean State Park
- Seminole Canyon State Park & Historic Site
5. Daily life
Plummets at Toltec Mounds Archaeological State Park in Arkansas.
Many tools, weapons and household items have disintegrated over time, while some have lasted whole or remnants can be found. Museums at many of these locations will display pieces found at the site like arrowheads and fish hooks. Sometimes archaeologists can't be sure of the purpose of things like plummets or gorgets. Pieces of pottery are frequently displayed at museums or alongside ruins.
Many hiking trails take you to grinding holes where Native Americans ground beans and grains near the source. Remember, it is forbidden to remove any items you happen to find in most parks.
When you are visiting these places it is fun to imagine what life was like back in these times. This article listed just a selection of locations. What spots have you seen?
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