Waterways were the major highways of pre-contact America, and this was especially true in coastal areas like the Alabama Gulf Coast where people depended heavily on coastal wetlands for food, shelter, and raw materials. Native Americans left their mark on the landscape in the form of sand or shell mounds, and their knowledge of local species and tidal systems is evident in the canals and water courts they constructed.
Locals in the Gulf Shores area of the Alabama Gulf Coast have long known about a feature often called “the Indian ditch” that appeared on maps as early as 1826. The same feature was labeled as “vestiges of an old canal,” on a 1935 map by Alabama State Geologist Walter B. Jones. It is shown as a canal or ditch crossing the Fort Morgan peninsula in Gulf Shores, and like those in Florida, it connected two bodies of water. In the case of the Gulf Shores canal, it connected Oyster Bay and Little Lagoon, and those connected Mobile Bay to the Gulf of Mexico.
The canal was recently donated to The Archaeological Conservancy by George C. Meyer Foundation. It is the only known such canal outside of Florida and is 1,300 years old; its rediscovery and preservation of part of it is the result of cooperation among landowners, archaeologists, avocational archaeologists, and the general public.
Cottonwood Petroglyph Preserve | New Mexico
Mesa Prieta contains one of the largest collections of petroglyphs in northern New Mexico, and with the generosity and support of our members, the Conservancy recently expanded its protection of this important cultural area with the purchase of the Cottonwood Petroglyph Preserve. This two-acre parcel is situated in a rural, residential area overlooking the Rio Grande about a half mile south of Wells Petroglyph Preserve. The site was purchased from landowner Debbie Boss, who inherited the site from her mother Nausika Richardson. Nausika was an artist who immigrated to the U.S. with her family from Greece in 1956 and landed in Dixon, New Mexico where she established herself as one of the major, modern ceramicists in the region. Debbie’s mother protected the property for nearly 40 years. Nausika died in 2011, and Debbie has carried on the preservation of the site. Now, The Conservancy will carry on this tradition in perpetuity.
In the early 2000s, the Mesa Prieta Petroglyph Project documented 111 images on this parcel, in addition to archaeological features such as rock gardens, grinding slicks, seasonal sun markers, and dual-ringed cupules. The panels were pecked with a hammerstone into the numerous basalt boulders that are characteristic of Mesa Prieta, featuring several recurring motifs possibly related to agriculture. These dark boulders are what give the mesa its shadowy appearance on the landscape and likely inspired its name, which translates to Black Mesa. The images at Cottonwood Preserve were created by the ancestors of the Tewa-speaking people. Mesa Prieta creates a dramatic backdrop to the modern Tewa Pueblo of Ohkay Owingeh a few miles away.
Virginia City Wickiup | Nevada
After the Pyramid Lake Indian War in 1860 and ongoing environmental degradation resulting from mining and ranching, the Northern Paiute had to find alternative ways to make a living. One way was to settle on the outskirts of Virginia City, Nevada, which was, at the time, home to the first silver boom in the United States.
The Northern Paiute constructed post-contact dwellings (locally known as wickiups) as they moved closer to the historic mining town of Virginia City, now a National Historic Landmark and District. Traditional Northern Paiute houses were framed with willow poles and covered with cattail, willow, and sagebrush bark to create a conical dome shape. Early photographs of these settlements dating to the 1870s show that while traditional dwellings were still used, many featured modifications such as the use of canvas, sheet metal, iron pipe, and stove pipe chimneys.
Destruction of most Northern Paiute post-contact dwellings in Virginia City took place throughout the 20th and 21st Centuries as a result of mining activities, residential expansion, and unauthorized excavation and destruction of archaeological sites. Some have been recorded by archaeologists, but never designated as architecture so that there have been no protections against removing them. One of, if not the last, standing post-contact dwellings in Virginia City, was brought to the attention of the Conservancy in September 2022 by archaeologist Margo Memmott, Cultural Resource Manager for Broadbent and Associates. Perhaps occupied by Indigenous residents until as late as the 1930s, the “later style” structure was located on a parcel owned by Mr. Richard Correll, who was aware of its uniqueness and historic importance. In March 2023, the half-acre property was purchased by the Conservancy as a POINT-6 site, making it the fifth preserve in Nevada.