Anasazi State Park and Escalante River Canyon Petroglyphs and Pictographs

Anasazi State Park safeguards the ruins of the so-called Coombs site, a 96-room pueblo settled in the early 12th century by migrating Ancestral Puebloans and occupied by as many as 200 people before it was vacated in the early 13th century. Though there is not complete agreement as to the identity of the inhabitants, evidence of Black Mesa and Kayenta Black-on-White pottery strongly points to Ancestral Puebloans from northern (likely northeastern) Arizona; mixed masonry styles of Jacal and Kayenta-style stonework in the above-ground pueblo room blocks also strongly suggests this origin for the earliest villagers. Despite early predominance of Puebloan-style pottery and masonry typical of northern Ancestral Puebloan communities, the site has yielded abundant evidence of other types of pottery – such as Ivie Creek Black-on-White and to a lesser extent, Middleton Black-on-Red – that suggests intermarriage or at least extensive trade with Fremont groups to the north and west as well as Virgin Anasazi groups to the southwest. This is only logical considering the pueblo’s location on the intersection of Puebloan and Fremont areas.

Also suggestive of sustained contact and/or intermarriage with the Fremont is the presence of pithouses that were occupied concurrently with the pueblo room blocks. Below-ground living structures were largely abandoned by Ancestral Puebloan groups after the 10th century though they remained common among their northern Fremont neighbors. But despite evidence of multi-cultural inhabitants a few decades after establishment, the village clearly had predominantly Puebloan characteristics, not just in housing but in the reliance of agriculture. Compared with the hunter-gatherer Fremont peoples to the north and west, the Puebloans were highly dependent on agriculture, and abundant evidence of cultivation and stored corn cobs clearly shows that maize was an important food staple for the village. Extensive farming knowledge and experience would have been needed to grow maize at this altitude (6,700 feet) as well, strongly supporting the thesis that the original inhabitants were Puebloan emigrants with the confidence and skills to produce maize by taking advantage of south-facing slopes.

Some intriguing questions as to the exact identities and ways of life at the Coombs site will likely remain unknown since the partial excavation in the late 1950s unintentionally destroyed evidence such as pottery residues that today could have been tested, but the location of the pueblo and the diverse collection of artifacts makes this a highly valued site and one that may in the future be able to answer questions regarding cultural contact and assimilation in the prehistoric Southwest.

Reconstructed room block based on the excavated foundations at the Coombs site, Anasazi State Park, Utah

Reconstructed room block based on the excavated foundations at the Coombs site, Anasazi State Park, Utah

Excavated L-shaped room block with charred posts, Anasazi State Park, Utah

Excavated L-shaped room block with charred posts, Anasazi State Park, Utah

Excavated L-shaped room block with charred posts, Anasazi State Park, Utah

Excavated L-shaped room block with charred posts, Anasazi State Park, Utah

Rooms with hearth, Anasazi State Park, Utah

Rooms with hearth, Anasazi State Park, Utah

Pithouse, Anasazi State Park, Utah

Pithouse, Anasazi State Park, Utah

Recreated varieties of flint arrowheads by artist Todd Campbell, Anasazi State Park, Utah

Recreated varieties of flint arrowheads by artist Todd Campbell, Anasazi State Park, Utah

Heading back east, we made a stop near the west end of the Escalante River Trailhead and hiked to the cliffs above the confluence of the Escalante River and Calf Creek to see the famous Hundred Hands Pictograph. I was unable to find out much information regarding the creators or dates associated with the panel, but it is quite impressive to see. Nearby we saw a few other petroglyph panels – unfortunately damaged from looting and graffiti – though there are likely more close by that mark the crossing of the two waterways.

Petrified sand ripples that are evidence of shallow seas, Escalante River Canyon, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah

Petrified sand ripples that are evidence of shallow seas, Escalante River Canyon, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah

Petroglyphs, Escalante River Canyon, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah

Petroglyphs, Escalante River Canyon, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah

Defaced petroglyphs with evidence of attempted removal, Escalante River Canyon, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah

Defaced petroglyphs with evidence of attempted removal, Escalante River Canyon, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah

Butte with Hundred Hands Pictograph, Escalante River Canyon, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah

Butte with Hundred Hands Pictograph, Escalante River Canyon, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah

Hundred Hands Pictograph, Escalante River Canyon, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah

Hundred Hands Pictograph, Escalante River Canyon, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah

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