The Distinctive Archaeological Landscape of the El Malpais National Monument Lava Flows

Author(s): Steve Baumann; Richard Greene

Year: 2015


El Malpais National Monument, located at the edge of the Colorado Plateau near the southern boundary of the San Juan Basin, was established to protect the rich diversity of volcanic geologic features that produced one of the longest sequences of volcanic activity in the United States – from about 700,000 to 3,000 years ago. Known collectively as the Grants Lava Flow, there are over nine lava flows each creating a new land surface with lava-influenced environmental conditions. The interaction of pre-contact peoples with this distinctive landscape has produced equally distinctive archaeological features: cairn trails with bridges, shrines, caches and other features including elaborate game traps, basalt architectural complexes and large, elaborate structural sites that may have served a particular function, such as water procurement camps. Studying the context of these features within the landscape and their unique architectural aspects provides an opportunity to examine past human adaptation to atypical land forms. Archaeological exploration within the flows is finding a network of trails and features that imply a sophisticated use of the landform going back hundreds of years. These preliminary archaeological investigations suggest that the trails and other site types may have served both economic and ritual functions.

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Cite this Record

The Distinctive Archaeological Landscape of the El Malpais National Monument Lava Flows. Richard Greene, Steve Baumann. Presented at The 80th Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, San Francisco, California. 2015 ( tDAR id: 396357)

Spatial Coverage

min long: -115.532; min lat: 30.676 ; max long: -102.349; max lat: 42.033 ;