The following is an article excerpt from the Summer 2019 Issue of American Archaeology MagazineBecome a member to subscribe and read the full issue! 

By David Malakoff

Cover Photo: Erik Stanfield of the National Park Service (wearing sunglasses) and Jeffrey Burns of the  Museum of Northern Arizona compare the current condition of Doll Ruin to a photo of the site taken in 1978.  | Credit: NPS Photo by Museum of Northern Arizona

In the spring of 1978, the National Park Service (NPS) dispatched scuba divers to an unusual destination: a remote canyon in the high desert of southeastern Utah. But there was method to their seeming madness. The divers were part of a research team studying how the creation of Lake Powell, a huge artificial created by the Glen Canyon dam on the Colorado River, had affected some of the region’s many archaeological sites, including several that were drowned deep beneath the lake’s waters.

A researcher documents pictographs at Doll Ruin in 1959 (above).
B/W Photo courtesy of the Natural History Museum of Utah (UMNH)  

Museum of Northern Arizona archaeologist Jeffrey Burns was unable to find the pictographs when he visited the site in 2019.
2019 NPS Photo Courtesy of the Museum of Northern Arizona

In 1959, the site Oven Alcove had a masonry room, a granary, and a retaining wall (above).
B/W Photo courtesy of the Natural History Museum of Utah (UMNH)  

This 2019 photo revealed that all the masonry structures had been destroyed. Stones from the collapsed structures are seen in the lower right corner. 
2019 NPS Photo Courtesy of the Museum of Northern Arizona

One of the team’s targets was Doll Ruin, a set of small alcoves tucked beneath the towering sandstone walls of Moqui Canyon. Archaeologists had first documented the site about twenty years earlier, determining it had been occupied during the Pueblo III period, which lasted from roughly A.D. 1150 to 1300. The Puebloans had left a prominent footprint, including hefty stone walls and large, human-like figures drawn on the cliff faces. Historically, the pictographs, dwellings, and storage rooms sat high above the nearby Colorado River. But in 1963, after engineers completed the 710-foot-high Glen Canyon Dam across the Colorado, the waters of what would become Lake Powell began filling Moqui Canyon and creeping up toward the nearly thousand-year-old ruins. When the NPS research team arrived, much of Doll Ruin sat fifty feet below the lake’s surface.

The divers weren’t sure what they’d find when they plunged into the frigid, fifty-degree water to inspect the sunken ruins. Inundation and churning waves had “obliterated” several other sites they had inspected, the team later wrote. So they weren’t surprised to discover that stones had toppled off some of the submerged masonry walls, leaving truncated bases bracketed by rubble. Remarkably, however, the pictographs were “still intact and in good condition,” although the divers had to wipe away layers of silt and algae to see them.

Now, some forty years after those dives and sixty years after Doll Ruin was documented, archaeologists have again revisited the site to assess its condition.

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