Armchair anthropology refers to the study of mankind and society from a comfortable distance, usually with a book or device in one’s lap. But, as travelers know, the best way to learn about how others live is by seeing and experiencing it firsthand.
The United States of America brims with history that is usually overlooked, whether it’s in standard education or the political sphere. These sites around the country were born of—or honor—that legacy.
Some, like the Cliff Dwellings at Mesa Verde National Park, the Ocmulgee National Monument and Aztec Ruins National Monument, preserve stunning examples of indigenous architecture, while others, like the Nez Perce National Historical Park and Talequah, Oklahoma’s Cherokee Heritage Center, preserve indigenous cultures that stood the test of genocide. Meanwhile Petrified Forest National Park and Horseshoe Canyon are magnificent backdrops for some of America’s oldest anthropological artifacts.
1. Mesa Verde Cliff Dwellings. 2. Canyonlands Great Gallery. 3. Chaco Culture National Historical Park. 4. Nez Perce National Historic Park. 5. Cherokee Heritage Center. 6. Ocmulgee National Monument.
Sarra Sedghi is the assistant editor of Paste’s food and science sections.
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Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado:
Colorado's Mesa Verde National Park is best known for its cliff dwellings, where Ancestral Pueblo people lived between the 1190s and the end of the 13th century. In its prime, the largest of these dwellings, Cliff Palace, contained 150 rooms and housed approximately 100 people.
Photo by daveynin, CC BY 2.0
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Canyonlands National Park, Utah: Canyonlands' Great Gallery, a massive pictograph painted by American Indians in the Late Archaic Period (2000 BCE to 500 CE), is the best known feature in Horseshoe Canyon. The area's oldest artifacts, left by Paleoindians, date back to 9000-7000 BCE.
Photo by CanyonlandsNPS
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Chaco Culture National Historical Park and the Aztec Ruins, New Mexico:
Chaco Culture National Historical Park is home to a number of archaeological feats, such as the great houses, some of the best preserved prehistorical structures in the country, and a number of petroglyphs. A little more than 69 miles away, you'll find the magnificent Aztec Ruins National Monument.
Photo by Ken Lund, CC BY-SA 2.0
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Nez Perce National Historical Park:
Located across Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington, Nez Perce National Historical Park protects what remains of the Nez Perce homeland as well as sacred places within the grounds. The petroglyphs at Buffalo Eddy date to nearly 4,500 years ago, while findings at Hasotino suggest have been inhabiting the Northwest for nearly 11,000 years.
Photo by Forest Service Northern Region, CC BY 2.0
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Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona:
Petrified Forest National Park isn't just about nature - the premises show more than 13,000 years of occupation and petroglyphs such as the Newspaper Rock (pictured). The Ancestral Puebloans utilized the area's petrified wood as a building material for structures such as the famed Agate House.
Photo by: Arterra/UIG via Getty Images
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Cherokee Heritage Center, Talequah, Oklahoma:
The Cherokee are one of the most notable indigenous groups that were displaced by Indian Removal, particularly because they worked to assimilate with settlers. Talequah's Cherokee Heritage Center, then (and the entire city, if you're looking for more information on the Cherokee), highlights Cherokee principles both before and after they were sent westward on the Trail of Tears. One of the center's primary attractions is Diligwa, a replication of a Cherokee village circa 1710.
Photo by Wesley Fryer, CC BY 2.0
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Ocmulgee National Monument, Georgia:
The Ocmulgee National Monument in Macon, Georgia, was an epicenter for the Muskegee people and is best known for its mounds that were constructed around 1000 CE. The area was inhabited by various groups of prehistoric indigenous people for 17,000 years.
Photo by Geoff Alexander, CC BY 2.0