Tuesday, October 10, 2017

1492: Lost, Gained, and Ever Changing

Indigenous Peoples Day Blog Series (2 of 5) By Guest Blogger Jewel Touchin, Senior Archaeologist - Logan Simpson
Jewel in prehistoric canal
Did you know there are more than 560 federally recognized tribes in the United States and that 22 of those tribes are present within the state of Arizona? Did you know that within the Navajo Nation alone there are approximately 90 clans, each with their own stories describing their origins and evolution? Imagine how many Native American communities there once were in the Americas! I think the general public both in America and internationally don’t realize that Native American cultures still exist today and when they actually are aware of our contemporary presence, the majority don’t spend much time trying to contemplate the amount of change Native people have experienced since 1492. Native Americans have experienced an exponential amount of change in the centuries past and continue to experience change today. I think the general public isn’t cognizant of Native American history because it’s not discussed in classrooms across the country. It’s not part of the average school curriculum and it’s not explained in school textbooks. It should be discussed, learned, and cherished by everyone because ultimately it’s a very rich history, a foundation that ultimately evolved into American history.

With regards to the topic of change, a very surficial example of the amount of change Native people have experienced can be seen when one considers population estimates in the City of Phoenix and compares that with population estimates in the year 1492. In 2015, the U.S. Census estimates that there were approximately 1.5 million people in the City of Phoenix. Take a moment to imagine the knowledge encapsulated in the city today amongst those 1.5 million individuals. Think of all the doctors, nurses, engineers, teachers, construction workers and laborers, musicians, seamstresses, physicists, chemists, botanists, farmers, biologists, astronomers, chefs, etc. The knowledge that’s within the city today is monumental. It’s frankly spectacular and irreplaceable!
Map of prehistoric canal system in Salt River Valley, Courtesy of Jerry Howard
Compare those U.S. Census figures with estimates of population in the Americas in 1492. Some scholars estimate there were approximately 100 million people here in 1492. So if we take those numbers and try to draw some correlations, we could say that comparatively speaking there were enough people here in 1492 to fill about 66 cities the size of Phoenix. Even if we use conservative estimates and cut that number in half, 33 cities the size of Phoenix is still an immense amount of people.

After 1492, there was a huge drop in Native American population due to disease, genocide, and other factors. Some scholars estimate that by the year 1650 there were approximately 6 million Native people in the Americas. So basically we go population-wise…from 66 (or 33 if we use conservative estimates) cities the size of Phoenix to 4 cities the size of Phoenix in that short timeframe of approximately 150 years. Four cities!! Imagine the amount of knowledge that would be lost today if we subtracted that many people. It is incredible when we think of things in those terms. That lost knowledge represents unfathomable change in Native American cultures and communities throughout the continents of North and South America.

Canal along south border of Pueblo Grande
We don’t have to look far to see evidence of this knowledge. In Phoenix, we can literally look in our backyards to see the ingenious innovation that prehistoric Native Americans possessed here in the Salt and Gila River valleys. There is blatant evidence of prehistoric engineering and irrigation technology that surpassed systems worldwide. Some of these irrigation systems in fact continue to be used by our current utility companies to service our population today. THAT’S amazing to me. THAT’S something that should be in every history textbook in America.

Despite the changes that have occurred in the past centuries, there’s still a vast amount of knowledge and enormous diversity among tribal communities today. It would be fantastic if the general public could realize that. It would be fantastic if the general public would see what is in front of them: strong, intelligent Native people who know the art of survival.

Jewel Touchin
Senior/Associate Archaeologist at Logan Simpson

Jewel Touchin was born and raised in St. Michaels, Arizona on the Navajo Nation. She is an enrolled member of the Navajo Nation and an Arizona State University (ASU) alumnus. Jewel began her ASU studies as an Aeronautical Engineering major, but after much introspection and discussion with family members regarding Navajo thoughts and beliefs about archaeology, she graduated with a degree in Anthropology. She began her career soon afterwards and currently has more than 23 years of professional experience as an archaeologist in the Southwest. Jewel has worked in various development sectors including transportation, utility infrastructure, and sustainable energy. She has worked with two tribal nations, two engineering firms, and is currently employed with an environmental firm in Tempe. 


  1. Simply Spectacular! Concise, but informative on a grand scale. I moved to Phoenix several years ago from the East Coast and feel as if I have moved to another country...I am madly in love with the cultural energy and the dazzling revitalized downtown. I realize now that Native Americans have simply been 'written out' of our history..I can't even go into the Indian School exhibit at the Heard anymore...it is so painful...this is so beautifully written, please publish in a format that will reach more people.♥

  2. Fascinating reading, and I would love to learn even more!