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Maps of Indigenous dwellings now on view at Canyons of the Ancients museum

The "Sand, Stone and Songs“ exhibit on display at the Canyons of the Ancients visitor center.
A 15-year-long project by the monument and University of Colorado Denver produces detailed digital drawings of historical Puebloan dwellings

The culmination of 15 years of collaborative research between the Canyons of the Ancients National Monument and the University of Colorado Denver now lives in the monument’s museum in Dolores.

The exhibit Sand, Stone, and Songs: Ancient Lessons from a Living Landscape opened Feb. 5, and it documents six ancient Puebloan hamlets throughout Montezuma Valley.

The monument partnered with the University of Colorado Denver’s Center of Preservation Research to digitally document prehistoric architectures specking the landscape of the monument.

A detailed drawing of the Saddlehorn Hamlet is part of the "Sand, Stone and Songs“ exhibit on display at the Canyons of the Ancients visitor center.

The result was detailed architectural drawings for the Historic American Buildings Survey available in the Library of Congress.

Canyons of the Ancients expert Vince MacMillan was the lead archaeologist on the project.

The floor plan renderings were created from on-the-ground surveying transformed into 3D digital data through such methods as terrestrial photogrammetry.

MacMillan’s team sought grants from various organizations like the Bureau of Land Management and the State Historical Fund to complete the project.

The Lowry Pueblo near Pleasant View, which is thought to have once had about 40 rooms and eight kivas, was the most complex to document, MacMillan said.

It’s remarkable for MacMillan to see all of the drawings lining the walls in a cohesive space.

“It's pretty gratifying because I feel like that program – we've actually done justice to those sites themselves,” he said.

MacMillan hopes visitors will appreciate the attention to detail in the drawings and the care it takes to preserve the historical sites.

But MacMillan also wants people to know that the drawings capture only one aspect of the indigenous cultures preserved in the ancient dwellings.

“They’re really important indigenous resources, and they’re very sensitive in that this is one tool that we use to try to understand some of the knowledge and the wisdom that the Indigenous cultures that created those amazing structures, just trying to understand just one aspect of it and using this one tool to do it,” he said.

Partnerships with local tribal communities have been instrumental in building understanding of the sites, MacMillan said.

In total, the Canyons of the Ancients monument is thought to have 30,000 sites, according to the BLM.

The exhibit only had a soft opening because of COVID-19, MacMillan said, but he hopes for more public programming in the summer, when he has planned presentations with architects on the project.