Human History for Students

Navigation Navigation

 

Learn and Explore

People from the Past

People have lived at Grand Canyon for thousands of years. Throughout time, they found shelter, food, and water to survive. Artifacts, objects left behind from past cultures, give scientists clues about how people lived in the past. People still visit, work, and live at Grand Canyon today.

 
Ancestral Puebloan rooms built into the cliff side overlooking the Colorado River

NPS Photo

Studying Ancient Cultures

Archaeologists study clues from past cultures. At Grand Canyon, they have found ancient pottery, stone houses, tools, and other artifacts that tell a story about people who lived there long ago.

The lives of prehistoric people at Grand Canyon were different than our lives today. Drinking water did not come from a faucet. Grocery stores did not exist.

Prehistoric people used objects from nature to collect food and and water, and to make clothing, shelter, and tools. They found everything they needed at the canyon.

 
 

How Prehistoric People Lived

Ancestral Puebloans, 800 to 1,300 years ago

Ancestral Puebloan families lived together in stone houses. They hunted animals and grew corn, beans, and squash. They also made pots for storing food.

 
 
Black and white image of pictographs, or painting on rocks.
Pictographs on the canyon walls.

NPS Photo

Basketmakers, 1,300 to 3,000 years ago

Basketmakers wove baskets and shoes from the fibers of yucca plants. They lived in rock shelters and pithouses partly dug into the ground. Basketmakers were the first farmers in the Southwest. They hunted bighorn sheep, grew corn, and collected pine nuts.

Archaic, 3,000 to 9,000 years ago

Archaic people hunted and gathered plants. They made stone tools and rock paintings called pictographs. Hunters sculpted twigs into animal shapes, called split-twig figurines, and left them in Grand Canyon caves.

Paleo-Indians, 9,000 to 13,000 years ago

The earliest humans known to migrate through Grand Canyon, Paleo-Indians, used spears with sharp tips called Clovis and Folsom points to hunt Ice Age animals, like saber-toothed cats and wooly mammoths.

 
 
 
Children stand in a row, ready to dance, dressed in native clothing.
Native American Heritage Day, Grand Canyon National Park.

NPS Photo

The Tribes of Today

Natives American culture thrives in and around Grand Canyon today. While the lives of today's tribes are much different than those of their ancestors, traditions have been passed down from generation to generation. The tribes enjoy parts of modern culture, and they have kept many of their traditions alive, such as ceremonies, music, food, and crafts. Together with the National Park Service, they help to care for Grand Canyon.

The Havasupai live in the last remaining tribal village inside the canyon. Navajo, Southern Paiute, and Hualapai communities lie along the edge, or rim, of the canyon. Hopi, Zuni, and Apache also live nearby. These people still consider Grand Canyon a sacred place.

 
 
Black and white image of a bearded white man pointing out, next to a Paiute Native American man.
Tau-gu, chief of the Paiutes overlooking Virgin River with John Wesley Powell age 39. Circa 1873.

NPS Photo

Learn more about Grand Canyon human history through Canyon Field School @Home activities, partnered with the Grand Canyon Conservancy!

Ancient to Modern Life

Life at the canyon changed a lot within the next few hundred years. Ancient tribes gradually moved away, but continued to visit. Many modern-day Native American tribes descended from those ancient tribes and still consider the canyon important to them today.

Exploration

With help from Native Americans, Europeans began to explore the canyon in 1540. They did not settle there because they found it hard to survive.

In the late 1800s, prospectors came to search for gold and copper. They found copper, but most of them decided to make a living from tourism (people visiting the canyon) instead.

 
 
Looking up a trail, a black and white photo shows a group of travelers via mule on the trail at Grand Canyon.
Teddy Roosevelt (lower left) on a mule train with others, photographed by the Kolb Brothers Studio, descending into Grand Canyon.

NPS Photo

Settlement

The first European-American settlers built homes, roads, stores, camps, and trails on the South Rim. Visitors came a long way to see the canyon, often traveling for days by horse and buggy.

Life became easier when the railroad arrived in 1901. The train carried water, food, supplies, and people.

The Making of a National Park

Many people have worked to protect Grand Canyon, including U.S. Presidents and workers in the U.S. Government and United Nations. President Benjamin Harrison first protected the canyon in 1893 by renaming it Grand Canyon Forest Reserve. In 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt visited the canyon. He designated it a national monument in 1908. In 1919, President Woodrow Wilson made Grand Canyon a national park to protect the land and the resources within it, managed by the National Park Service. The United Nations declared the park a World Heritage Site in 1979. This name has helped the canyon become famous worldwide.

Today, more than 6 million visitors a year make their way to Grand Canyon, and in turn, become part of Grand Canyon's history books.

 
 

Lesson Plans

Loading results...

    Last updated: April 23, 2021

    Contact the Park

    Mailing Address:

    PO Box 129
    Grand Canyon , AZ 86023

    Phone:

    928-638-7888

    Contact Us

    Stay Connected