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Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Anthropologists in the Parks

National Park Week is this week! From April 16th to the 24th, you can visit all national parks for free. National parks and anthropology have always had an important relationship, and here at the National Anthropological Archives we have many materials related to the work that anthropologists have done in national parks. In the 19th century, many of the first professional anthropologists were also advocates for national parks. John Wesley Powell, first director of the Bureau of American Ethnology, was also the leader of the first recorded expedition of white men through the Grand Canyon.

This view of the Grand Canyon was sketched in 1872 during Powell's second expedition down the Colorado River. NAA MS 2030: 363 Drawings for Illustrating Major Powell's Memoirs. National Anthropological Archives, NMNH.
Powell also participated in surveys of the Rocky Mountains and was later the director of the U.S. Geological Survey. Shortly before a monument was erected in Powell’s honor in the Grand Canyon in 1916, a Department of the Interior press release declared that “if, as is expected, Congress meantime makes the Grand Canyon a national park (it is a national monument now), the two dedications will take place together, making a celebration altogether notable in the history of national parks.” The Grand Canyon was made a national park slightly later in 1919, and you can still see Powell Point there today.

Page from a 1915 letter planning Powell's Grand Canyon memorial. NAA MS 4910: Material Related to the Construction of the John Wesley Powell Memorial at the Grand Canyon," 1915-1916. National Anthropological Archives, NMNH.
William Henry Jackson, a BAE photographer, was also a member of the 1871 Hayden Geological Survey that explored the area that is now Yellowstone National Park. Jackson’s photographs of Yellowstone Lake, Old Faithful, and other natural landmarks helped convince Congress to make Yellowstone the first national park in 1872. In 1874, Jackson also took the first photographs of the cliff dwellings in what is now Mesa Verde National Park. William Henry Holmes, Jackson’s colleague and the second director of the BAE, surveyed more cliff dwellings nearby in Mancos Canyon the following year. The attention these two helped create in the area eventually led to the creation of Mesa Verde National Park in 1908.
Hayden Survey camp near Lake Yellowstone. NAA MS 4605: "Camp Scene of Hayden Survey," 1871. National Anthropological Archives, NMNH.

Map of Mesa Verde Area Showing Locations of Ruins, 1908.
But anthropologists haven’t just been involved in the creation of National Parks, they’ve also been instrumental in the preservation of natural and historical resources that you can still see in the parks today. Jesse Walter Fewkes, Smithsonian archaeologist and chief of the BAE in the 1920s, was closely involved in early excavations and repairs of major sites at Mesa Verde National Park. Centuries of deterioration, vandals, and destructive tourists were major problems in the park. Fewkes and his colleagues worked hard to restore cliff dwellings, pueblos, towers, and many other structures built by the Western Anasazi people between 600 and 1200 A.D. Without their work, there would be way fewer historical sites remaining in national parks for us to visit and enjoy. More recently archaeologists have worked to protect prehistoric sites, natural wonders, and archaeological artifacts in Zion, Canyonlands, and many other national parks.

Thomas Dale Stewart papers,
Series 5, National Geographic Society,
 Wetherill Mesa Project, 1962-1964. National
Anthropological Archives, NMNH.

Anthropologists have always been an important part of the creation and protection of our national parks, but their involvement didn’t stop there. The knowledge and information gained from anthropological field work and research in national parks has also helped improve our understanding of peoples and places in the United States.

While John Wesley Powell was helping survey what is now Rocky Mountain National Park, he also collected ethnographic and linguistic data on many of the Native American tribes he encountered along the way. In the 1950s and 1960s, archaeologists sponsored by the National Park Service and National Geographic Society conducted the Wetherill Mesa Archeological Project. The project helped excavate many historic sites and made many notable archaeological, botanical, and geological discoveries. More recent surveys in Grand Teton and other national parks have contributed to our knowledge of where and how prehistoric peoples lived in the present day U.S. Anthropologists also conducted research of mounds at places like Shiloh Military National Park, Isle Royale National Park, Everglades National Park, and Mammoth Cave and you can find their reports and photographs at the NAA. Without each other, anthropology and our national park system would be a whole lot different today.

Thomas Dale Stewart papers, Series 5, National Geographic Society, Wetherill Mesa Project, 1962-1964. National 
Anthropological Archives, NMNH.
Interested in learning more about national parks? You can visit the National Park Service website here to find a park near you. The NAA and Human Studies Film Archives have films, records, and photographs from many national parks across the United States, and many are available online. Happy exploring!

Tyler Stump
Processing Archivist
National Anthropological Archives

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