Anasazi State Park Museum

Saturday October 11, 2014

We visited the Anasazi State Park Museum which is just off Highway 12 in Boulder, UT. The park isn’t very big, encompassing only the museum building, the Coombs archaeological site which has only been partially excavated, a six-room replica of part of the Coombs Site, and a cutaway replica of a pithouse. The entrance fee was $5.00 per person, well worth the cost. Besides museum exhibits, there’s a short film and a gift shop.

The word Anasazi in Navajo means ancient enemies or enemy ancestors. Because of that some archaeologists adopted the term Ancestral Pueblo. I’ve seen both terms used during my wanderings in Anasazi territory.

While the Anasazi grew corn, beans and squash, they supplemented their diet with wild game and native plants. Their lives were far from easy, and most did not live past 45, with an average life expectancy of about 35.

The museum, though small, was well done. They had some very good models of the various types of construction – pithouse, jacal construction, and kayenta masonry.

Pithouse construction

Pithouse construction

Jacal Construction

Jacal Construction

Kayenta Masonry

Kayenta Masonry

The museum also had quite a few artifacts on display, such as a 1,000 year old atlatl. I could almost picture an Anasazi hunter stalking a mule dear with it.

Initial excavation of the Coombs site began in 1927 by the Peabody Museum. Major excavations took place in 1958 and 1959 by the University of Utah. State park staff continued the excavations between 1970 and 1991.

In addition to hundreds of thousands of artifacts, these excavations uncovered 97 rooms and 10 pit structures. To date only about half of the site has been studied.

The Coombs site was occupied in the mid-twelfth century and abandoned around 1175AD. Like many Anasazi sites, no one knows why they left or where they went.

An artist’s rendering of what the site may have looked like is shown below.

Coombs site artist's rendering

Coombs site artist’s rendering

Park staff (and I suspect lots of volunteers) painstakingly reconstructed part of the Coombs site – three living rooms (on the right) and three storage rooms (on the left).

Coombs site replica

Coombs site replica

Using Holly’s height (5’5”) for scale, you can tell the Anasazi had to have been short (5’4” for men and 5’2” for women). Considering how much labor would be required to build these structures, extra headroom was not an option.

Replica living

Replica living room

Can you imagine Anasazi children playing in the yard, women grinding corn with manos and matates, men preparing their weapons for a hunt, and smoke wafting from the roofs of the living areas?

The park also built a cutaway replica of a pithouse. As the name implies, the Anasazi dug a circular pit and built a roof out of timbers and brush and coated it with a thick layer of mud. That made them cooler in summer and warmer in winter. There’s a firepit in the center beneath the roof opening. There’s also a ventilation shaft at the far end of the pit to pull in fresh air and push the smoky air out the roof opening.

Pithouse

Pithouse

The Anasazi certainly knew how to adapt their buildings to accommodate their natural environment. “Modern” humans go to great expense to create artificial environments that waste energy and resources. Just because we can doesn’t mean we should.

(Side note from Holly: To all those friends that teased John that I would have him living in a mud hut – his previous statement shows that my slow, insidious influence is working. There will be mud in our future!)

The park built a metal roof over the excavated site which is nice for those of us who can’t tolerate the brutal sun beating down on us. Even on a cool October day, the sun sucked the energy out of us.

Living rooms line the left side of the image while a storage room is to the right. Note the burned timbers sticking out of the remnants of the masonry walls. My recollection is that all the excavated sites had been burned but archaeologists aren’t sure why.

Coombs site excavation

Coombs site excavation

I can’t imagine moving to a new home and burning my old one. Maybe their homes had spiritual value and leaving it for a stranger to move into would have been sacrilegious. It’s a question we will never know the answer to.

All in all, I found this tiny park to be a real gem and thoroughly enjoyed my visit.

J

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