Etiquette for Visiting Native American Ruins

Etiquette for Visiting Native American Ruins
Increasing numbers of people are exploring cliff dwellings and other ancient ruins in the American Southwest. It is more important than ever to observe a few guidelines that will preserve this shared cultural resource and make everyone's experience enjoyable.

Consideration of Other Visitors

Many sites are small, and have space for only one or two visitors at a time. Others are larger but some people may prefer to experience them without a crowd, or in silence. Be aware of whether others are waiting to explore a site, and don't monopolize an area for too long. Voices carry long distances in canyons, so keep your voice down, or---better still---refrain from talking while in a ruin. Children enjoy ruins but must be under their parents' control at all times. Cell phones should be turned off. Also, many people like to photograph ruins, and don't want strangers in their photos, so be respectful of their needs.

Leave Artifacts in Place

Finding arrowheads, potsherds, corncobs and other artifacts (photo) makes exploring ruins exciting and connects us to their long-gone residents. It's more fun to discover an artifact on your own than to come across a bunch of broken pottery someone else has laid out on a rock. Of course it's illegal to remove arrowheads or other items from ruins. They must be left behind for others to enjoy and to preserve the integrity of the site.

Don't Climb on Walls

Some ruins have been stabilized in recent years, but most have not. In either case, ancient walls are very fragile and are easily destroyed. (photo) The mortar used to hold them together is not as strong as modern materials, and the rocks themselves can be friable. Observe signs and barriers indicating areas that are off-limits, and don't climb or walk on the tops of walls or kivas.

Don't Touch

Rock art (photo) is fascinating, partly because we understand so little of it. Though mysterious, many of the figures offer insights into the ancients' beliefs, ideology, myths, and dreams. Both petroglyphs (etched into rock) and pictographs (painted onto rock surface) are delicate, and easily damaged by direct contact. This includes touching the figures (damage from skin oils), walking or stepping on them, and making rubbings or chalk outlines of them. Vandalism of rock art is illegal.

Look in, but Stay Out

Some ruins have many small rooms with low, narrow doorways (photo)---tempting us to see what discoveries might lie within. Most of these doorways are not reinforced, and are too small for modern-day adults to enter without causing damage. The rooms themselves are often quite tiny, and you can easily see everything inside without entering.

Article Written By Peggy Hansen

Peggy Hansen holds a Bachelor of Science in biology from UC San Diego, Doctor of Medicine from UCLA, and completed postgraduate training at Stanford, Duke and Harvard. An award-winning writer and photographer, her work has been featured in Catnip, Herbalgram, Porter Gulch Review, and many online pieces. She's also a commentator for KQED-FM

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