Ranger Kathryn's Arches

February 6, 2012

Jay Canyon 4: Revelation

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 9:36 am
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

(Continued from Jay Canyon 3: Reflect)

Halfway back to our car, in the middle of nowhere, a man’s voice hailed us from forty yards above. “Did you visit the ruin site?” he inquired. Tara and I looked at each other, wondering how much to say. Archaeological etiquette calls for much discretion in these matters.

He had monitored the site for quite a number of years and had a detailed history of it; when he heard I was a park service employee, a bond of trust was established. With a note of excitement in his voice, he asked, “Those bones in the granary — did you see them? They’re adolescent ancestral Puebloan.”

Within the granary: a teenager's bones

My mind careened back to the ribs and pelvis, which we had carelessly assumed were from a deer because that and rabbit are the only kind of bones we ever see. Instantly the niggling disconnect in my brain, the missing piece, came into sharp focus. Now I saw the acetabulum, the cup-shaped depression that holds the head of the femur. Above it, the sweeping curve of the iliac crest was unmistakable. Half of a human pelvis, all right.

The man continued his story. “Pot-hunters looted the site multiple times. Four or five bodies’ worth of bones were in a pile on the surface when I first came to the alcove decades ago. They were re-interred in the midden, but folks keep poking around and digging them up.”

After talking further and thanking him for his illumination, we made our way down to the car in utter silence. Everything had changed with one sentence. The place we had just explored was not just a food storage site or a group of houses; it was also a family cemetery.


  1. Connection!
    I love it!!!

    Comment by leroque — February 6, 2012 @ 10:42 am | Reply

  2. Was it a cemetery or did they just die there I wonder? Was there a burial pattern from this culture. I wonder if a residence would turn into a grave site as a family moved or a matriarch passed. Maybe if burial dates relative to the end of the short cliff-dweller era were established one could surmise whether a culture moved on or just perished.

    Comment by midsummerman — February 6, 2012 @ 11:38 am | Reply

    • Thank you for pointing out that figurative terms may be taken literally. You raise such good questions. It likely was NOT a cemetery, in the sense in which we use that word, but just a final resting place for their remains. The unanswered questions of when and to where they moved on are what keep us guessing. The charred juniper logs on site added to the mystery.

      Comment by Kathryn Burke — February 6, 2012 @ 2:38 pm | Reply

  3. We came across these bones last December. I too thought they might be animal bones, but my daughter knew right away what they were. We notified BLM, who is working to have them reburied under the auspices of a Ute medicine man. The skeletons that were there evidently were removed sometime in the 70s or early 80s to a museum, and the paperwork is underway to bring those skeletons back as well for reburial. I go back there occasionally to keep the bones company. Hopefully they, won’t be disturbed until they are safely interred.

    By the way, I would love to talk a little bit about Canyonlands National Park with you. (I’m working on a Nat Geo project, and need some quotable intel.) I’ll be at all three sections over the next week. You can contact me at charlie@jadedtraveler.com, and let me know if this is possible. Thanks.

    Comment by Charles Kulander — April 28, 2012 @ 12:21 pm | Reply

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