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Bringing The Grand Canyon To The Verde Valley!

Monica Buckle, Executive Director, was curious about the Park’s collections, specifically their Ancestral Hopi and Ancestral Puebloan collections, as VVAC houses an important Ancestral Hopi collection. 


Despite a geographic distance, Buckle saw cultural connections between the Grand Canyon and the Verde Valley. Both areas have Ancestral Hopi and Ancestral Puebloan sacred sites and shrines that are still active and visited today by Native peoples. 


The exhibit would not have been made possible if not for Kim Besom, Grand Canyon Museum Collection, as well as Ed Keable, the Park’s Superintendent. This is the largest exhibit that the Grand Canyon Museum Collection has loaned out to a museum. 


The exhibit explores three time periods in the canyon’s history, the archaic world, the Indigenous world and the historic world. It also shows multiple perspectives, of both Besom’s perspective as the steward and custodian of the collection, as well as the perspective of the Hopi, Ancestral Puebloan peoples, modern day

Puebloan peoples and the several affiliated tribes with heritage that ties back to the Grand Canyon.


The Grand Canyon has always been a place of human occupation since time immemorial,” said Buckle. “With all the different layers of time, flora and fauna and the geology, it's ever evolving. The one thing the Canyon has that's the same, is that it's always giving life and there's always people going there.” 


Jeffrey H. King, VVAC’s Director of Collections, shared that most of the material in the Grand Canyon’s collection doesn’t have any provenience, or an exact place of origin where it was found. Over the years, visitors to the Canyon collected items and some people brought these items back. The Parks Service built a repository to house the items and preserve them. 


“I was struck by the fact that there basically are three periods, or time horizons, to the Grand Canyon, which is what the exhibit is organized around,” said King. 

The Archaic world spans a vast period of time from roughly 10,000 BCE to 400 BCE. One rock in this portion of the exhibit is billions of years old. Other artifacts in this section include the upper mandible of an extinct American cheetah. Found in the same cave as the mandible were pieces of fur and skin and the skull of a giant ground sloth. This Ice Age sloth is a relative of modern sloths, and weighed up to 500 lbs and could be up to 9 ft in length. These artifacts were found at Rampart Cave by the National Parks Service in 1942 and narrowly escaped being destroyed after vandals broke into the site in 1976, starting a fire that eviscerated over three quarters of the remaining deposits. King noted that caves are perfect for preservation, which allowed the fur and skin of the ground sloth to still be intact and in such good condition.


Another interesting artifact from the archaic period is the split twig figurines. These figurines were made out of one long willow wand, which was wrapped around itself to form the body of the animal. Some of the figurines had fragments of animal dung inside of them, thought to be perhaps an offering in a hunting ritual. Others had a long stick through the figures, representing a spear piercing the animal. 


The first serious study of these figurines was by Robert C. Euler who questioned the theory that these were children’s toys. In 1968, many of these figurines were found in Stanton’s Cave in the Grand Canyon. Radiocarbon dating proved these figurines to be dated around the end of the last ice age, thousands of years ago. King actually worked with Euler at Stanton’s Cave when he was an undergraduate at Prescott College. 


The timeline moves forward with the Indigenous period from 400 BCE to the Spanish Entrada (1540-1760 CE).  King stated that the people who came to the Grand Canyon during this period were farmers. Evidence of this is seen in the numerous corn cobs at the Canyon, which are also in this section of the exhibit. 

 This section includes a standard spindle whorl that has been ground smooth, rounded and had a hole drilled in the middle. A twig would have been placed in this hole and held in place by clay or pine pitch. This was used to spin cotton fiber into yarn or thread, and shows evidence of cotton agriculture in the Grand Canyon.


A similarly rounded potsherd with carefully incised lines indicates another potential use entirely. It could have been a device for measuring and recording angles or perhaps a navigational tool. By dangling the item on a stick or cord, the lines could have been used to measure horizontal and vertical distances. 


“This kind of puzzle is really interesting and worth looking at because we don’t give prehistoric people the credit they deserve for the technology they developed here,” said King. 

 The Historic period, from the 1800s to about 1950, has artifacts from explorers and settlers. I. C. Rees, a hermit and prospector, left a cache where he left items for people to leave and take, including a sewing kit and deck of cards. He also had a sense of humor, leaving a liquor bottle wrapped in a prohibition pamphlet.


Other artifacts from this period include a boat oar from one of the Kolb brothers, early photographers and explorers of the Canyon. Also included is a postcard with one of their legendary daredevil photos on it. 


Buckle added that some native Arizonans have never had the opportunity to travel to the Grand Canyon. 


“It's nice to bring the Canyon to the Verde Valley community,” said Buckle. “Some people have not had the opportunity to visit the Grand Canyon so bringing that to the region is wonderful.” 


Buckle also thanked Lloyd Masayumptewa, Superintendent of Montezuma’s Castle, Montezuma Well, and Tuzigoot National Monument, who was involved with the development of the exhibit. 


“I have much gratitude to VVAC’s volunteers who were extremely dedicated to getting this exhibit prepared from composing all the object labels in the cases, to helping with the hanging and gallery installations,” said Buckle. “There's so much work that goes on behind the scenes to make an exhibit presentable to the public. I'm so grateful for their continued involvement.”

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