Flagstaff exhibition documents changes at Glen Canyon archeological sites

An exhibition currently on display at the Museum of Northern Arizona (MNA) in Flagstaff shows various locations in Glen Canyon before Lake Powell filled in the 1960s, and what some of those locations looked like when a team of MNA archaeologists returned in 2015.

Many of the photos show how visitors, livestock and flooding by the reservoir have affected the archaeology and geology.  

One of the people who documented archaeological sites before Glen Canyon Dam was completed was Gene Foster. According to an introductory text panel at the exhibition, “When Gene Foster rafted through Glen Canyon in 1952, she was not just admiring the dramatic red rocks. She was searching for signs of life from long ago, recording archaeological sites for MNA. Foster navigated Glen Canyon 11 times between 1952 and 1957, recording more than 200 archaeological sites.” 

In 1957, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation started the Upper Colorado Region Salvage Project – commonly called the Glen Canyon Project – to continue documenting the archaeology that would be underwater within 10 years. The bureau hired archaeologists from MNA for the project, which from 1957 to 1962 resulted in the production of movies and photographs from about 2,000 sites.  

From 2015 to 2021, MNA archaeologists returned to many of the sites to document them for the bureau and the National Park Service.  

During the 1957-1962 survey, travel across the Glen Canyon region was done by boat, truck, foot and sometimes horseback. In 2015, there were fewer horses and more boats. The team assessed 500 sites. 

The most common damage the survey found was from graffiti and people disturbing the structures.  Some of the sites that the NPS thought had been destroyed were actually in good condition, though more fragile from being underwater.

Visitors to the Glen Canyon exhibit will leave with a sense of nostalgia and a realization of how rich the area is in archaeological history. The exhibit will be on display until August 2023.

The Museum of Northern Arizona (3101 N. Fort Valley Road, Flagstaff) offers temporary and permanent exhibits on art, archeology, Native American history and culture, dinosaurs and more. The museum also holds talks, festivals, camps and other special events. More information can be found online at musnaz.org or by calling 928-774-5213.

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