It was lost for more than 70 years, but since its rediscovery
an archaeological site on the south slope of Frances Mesa overlooking
Gobernador Canyon has made significant contributions to understanding
early Navajo culture before the 1800s.
mystery of Morris Site 1 and its contributions are documented in
an extensive two-volume report titled "The Morris Site 1 Early
Land Use Study: Gobernador Phase Community Development in Northwestern
work, including archaeological inventory, data recovery and excavation
was conducted between 1994 and 1996. Last July, after 10 years of
compiling data and collaboration with experts in various scientific
fields, the project came together under the editorship of Douglas
Dykeman, the project director with the Navajo Nation Archaeology
project was jointly conducted by the Navajo Nation Archaeology Department
and Cultural Resources Management Consultants.
10-year study was funded by Williams Field Services as part of a
larger federally-administered program to mitigate adverse effects
of Fruitland coal gas development.
was a lot of fun for me. It's the most interesting thing I've
ever done by far. This one is a showpiece. It has relevant archaeology.
And the site represents social, economic, political and religious
aspects of early Navajo culture," Dykeman said.
our biggest attempt yet to handle a complex problem involving archaeology,
history and Native American culture. It's unusual to handle
those simultaneously and to have this kind of interdisciplinary
work in a single project," he said.
study combined archaeological excavations, intensive and sample
inventories, ethnographic and oral history data, as well as innovative
dating techniques to paint a newly-detailed picture of Dine life
in the traditional Navajo homeland of the Dinetah.
details include an examination of local and extended social structure,
economics involving local production and regional trade as well
as ceremonial life.
collaboration of a number of institutions brought all the studies
together and tied them into one whole," Dykeman said.
story of the site began before archaeologist Earl Morris did his
definitive work at Aztec Ruins in 1916.
1915 Morris dug parts of six pueblitos for the University of Colorado
Museum and American Museum of Natural History in Romine Canyon,
a small tributary to Gobernador Wash east of Bloomfield.
40 years later the university sent out Roy L. Carlson, a doctoral
student. His project was to take Morris' notes, relocate those
six sites and prepare a report on the material.
could find only five of the six sites. He couldn't find Morris
Site 1. He had Morris' photos and he had his notes, but he
couldn't find the site," Dykeman said.
finished his report without Morris Site 1. The mystery surrounding
Site 1 faded into obscurity as the Dinetah landscape began to be
reworked by natural gas field development and the construction of
Navajo Dam and Reservoir, Dykeman said.
it was that same gas field development that ironically led to the
rediscovery of the missing site 76 years later as the result of
archaeological mitigation for the Fruitland Coal Gas facilities.
1991 one of the contract archaeologists, Summer McKean, found a
small pueblito perched on a large boulder detached from the Frances
Mesa escarpment. She wondered if she had found the missing Morris
site. Her instinct proved true.
reason it couldn't be found earlier was that Morris said it
was located on a detached boulder on the valley floor at the foot
of the canyon wall in Gobernador Canyon. The site was actually situated
on the first bench, about 40 to 50 feet higher than he had said,
and above the valley floor," Dykeman said.
saw it through the trees. She had the pictures of it and worked
hard trying to match the photo to its then-current condition,"
find ended the mystery of Morris Site 1 and its location was solved,
but its significance for Navajo culture remained to be investigated.
pueblito consists of a four-room stone masonry structure perched
on a large talus boulder. When Morris saw it, floors were coated
with mud to level the irregular surface of the boulder. Morris wrote
of a doorway between interior rooms. No exterior entrance was evident.
It's thought the entrance to the structure was through the
purposes of the project, the 1,400-acre study area included the
pueblito of Morris Site 1 and a second pueblito called Romine Canyon
Ruin, on the east side of the Morris Site 1 project area. They contain
between four and 10 rooms, and appear to be associated with features
of domestic and social function.
Site 1 complex encompasses the pueblito and a number of features,
including possible hogans, a sweat lodge, a midden and possible
hearths. It is surrounded by 122 archaeological sites dated to the
Navajo occupation in the 17th and 18th centuries.
believed the pueblito of Morris Site 1 was built largely for defense
and storage for the people living in Romine Canyon, from 1749 until
it was abandoned in 1751 or 1752.
the Morris Site 1 study area, the protohistoric Navajo community
of the 1700s on Frances Mesa was studied in relation to its economy
and social organization.
the height of its population, it had nearly 500 people and was a
gathering of several clans. The economy was diverse and complex,
combining three strategies of procurement: collecting hunting
and gathering , producing of corn, beans and squash, and exchange
of raw materials, hides, blankets and baskets with the Spanish and
interest also are possible reasons why the Navajos ended their residency
in the Dinetah in the mid-A.D. 1700s.
many people believe that cultures move or migrate to another area
because environmental conditions deteriorate. But we're convinced
there are cultural factors in a people coming to the decision to
migrate or move," Dykeman said.
see this change in the economy of the Navajo from farming to sheep
herding. Another external factor was that the Spanish were trying
to gain control of the Navajo people. Their goal was to make the
Navajo settle in to pueblo-like towns," he said.
Blessing Way is what facilitates the change in their culture and
economy. The Navajo basically rejected the Spanish push to become
settled," he said.
the Navajo economy is undergoing a change again from sheep herding
to a modern economy," he said.
work also advances ideas that suggest certain aspects of modern
Navajo communities may serve well as ethnographic models for the
archaeological consideration of Gobernador phase communities, Dykeman
said he hopes the work offers "a better understanding and respect
for Navajo culture which we found to be far more complex than earlier
are exploring, through a possible National Science Foundation grant,
continuing the project to include explanations through oral traditions
for the shift of land use out of the Dinetah to the San Juan Basin
and beyond," Dykeman said.
said the report is somewhat technical but is of interest to anthropologists,
Navajo traditionalists, cultural geographers and social scientists.
copies are available at the Navajo Nation Archaeology Department
office in Farmington and Window Rock. It has been distributed to
libraries and museums throughout the U.S., and is at Salmon Ruins
and San Juan College as well as at major university libraries throughout
the Southwest and across the country.
more information contact the Navajo Nation Archaeology Department
office at 327-6115.