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Archeology Day Offers Hands-On Activities at Grand Canyon National Park on March 19


(top photo) A rare find. This perfectly intact pot was discovered by archeologists working along the Colorado River in 2007. (Bottom photo) Archeologists at work in the park. NPS photos.

If you have even a passing interest in archeology, the upcoming Archeology Day at Grand Canyon National Park on Saturday, March 19 will be a great chance for some hands-on activities and learning opportunities.

Who were the people who lived in and around the Grand Canyon centuries ago, and how did they live? What do archeologists really do to solve those mysteries, and what have they learned? Archeology Day is intended to help park visitors answer those questions—and have fun in the process.

Hands-on activities for all ages will take place at Grand Canyon Visitor Center from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on March 19th. Visitors can join a ranger to make a split-twig figurine, similar to artifacts dating to 2,000 to 4,000 years ago that have been found in remote caves in and around the Grand Canyon.

The name "split-twig" comes from the technique used centuries ago. The original figurines were made from a single twig, often willow, split down the middle, and then carefully folded into animal shapes. The figurines may resemble a deer, or perhaps a bighorn sheep, and are thought to be a hunting talisman.

Participants can also make a pinch pot out of clay and compare their work to old pots from a thousand years ago which were used for cooking, serving or storing food. Obtaining, preparing and storing food used to take a lot more time for people who lived centuries ago…and without benefit of zip-lock freezer bags and non-stick cookware.

If you'd like to pretend to be a modern archeologist, the event will also offer a hands-on (and hands-in-the-dirt) activity: artifact sifting. During a real "dig," scientists carefully sift soil excavated from a site looking for any objects of interest. This activity lets you try your hand at the work. An event organizer says, "When you find bits of evidence, perhaps you can discover what they are and what they were used for."

The day is designed to help draw attention to “Arizona Archaeology and Heritage Awareness Month,” which aims to make the public more aware of archeology in the state of Arizona. Grand Canyon National Park has an abundance of resources: almost 4300 archeological sites have been recorded to date in the park, and archeologists estimate that the park may have as many as 50,000 – 60,000 sites.

How old are items found at these sites? According to a park spokesperson, "Some of the artifacts found in the park date back almost 12,000 years, testimony to the vast extent of the human history of the area. That human history lives on as descendants of these ancient peoples continue to utilize the area today."

All of the park’s Archeology Day activities and programs are being offered free of charge on the South Rim. All activities are family friendly and, with the exception of the evening program, will be offered at the Grand Canyon Visitor Center between the hours of 11:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m.

The event will close with a special evening program, “Grand Canyon, the Human Story,” by the park’s Chief of Cultural Resources Ellen Brennan. During the program she'll share some of the recent findings from archeological surveys, excavations and other research in the park. This special presentation will take place at 7:30 p.m. at the Shrine of Ages Auditorium near Parking Lot A on the South Rim.

You'll find a map of the South Rim area and information about the free park shuttle system on the park website.

If you can't attend the event at the park on March 19, you can take a virtual tour of archaeological excavations which were made along the Colorado River the park between 2007 and 2009.

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