For millennia, Grand Canyon has been a magnet for mankind—from yesterday’s roaming hunters to today’s romantic honeymooners. The recent chance discovery of an artifact on the South Rim has caused park archaeologists to revisit their estimates of the earliest recorded human visitation.
Biologist Chuck LaRue discovered a fragment from an 11,000-year-old Clovis spear point while bird watching on the South Rim in January. Prior to this find, a 10,000-year-old Folsom point, found near the same area and adjacent to a trans-canyon route, was the oldest find.
To a trained eye, the traces of past cultures are not uncommon. They include agave roasting pits, grinding stones called “metates”, pieces of broken pottery, or the crumbled walls of crude structures. The park service estimates that they have surveyed less than 5% of 1.2 million-acre Grand Canyon National Park, and have found several thousand archaeological sites.
In my experience, stumbling across such remains is one of the biggest thrills to be had in the Canyon. There’s no arguing that running whitewater rapids will elevate your pulse higher than when you chance upon a thousand year old rock art panel. But in terms of firing one’s imagination there is no comparison.
Some of the most obvious artifacts include granaries. These stone and mortar structures, typically found under south facing overhangs, were used to store food in most cases. As with cultural treasures, they should be left in place and “as is.” That way the next person to come along will have the same sense of discovery, and archaeologists will have an easier time of unlocking the secrets of the canyon’s earliest inhabitants.