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Archive for the ‘Protection’ Category

Core Samples Taken for Tree-Ring Dating, Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument

Despite their impressive preservation, the Gila Cliff Dwellings have gotten surprisingly little attention in the archaeological literature.  This is apparently because they were so thoroughly ransacked by pothunters early on that there wasn’t much left intact for archaeologists to study, and possibly also because the early establishment of Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument in 1907 has led most subsequent research to be done by the National Park Service, which has often had a tendency to keep findings in internal reports for management purposes rather than publishing them in peer-reviewed journals or books.  The surviving structural timbers have clearly been sampled for tree-ring dating, and the interpretive material put out by the monument discusses the results of this analysis.  The museum at the visitor center also displays some artifact that were apparently found in the cliff dwellings, although it’s not always clear if they were excavated by the NPS or recovered from private collections after having been looted and sold.  The NPS does have an online administrative history of the monument; I haven’t read it yet, but from a casual look through the section on archaeological research it seems to confirm that there has been some excavation by the Park Service, mostly in the 1960s, but that the data have not been thoroughly analyzed or reported.

The only substantial discussion of the cliff dwellings that I have found in the published literature is a short article published by Editha Watson in 1929.  She discusses several cave sites in the Upper Gila River area, but gives the most detailed description (which is still not very detailed) of the caves in the monument.  She discusses the highly looted state of the sites and some of the things found in them, although she does not make it very clear who found them or how:

Corncobs are plentiful in this ruin. They are very small, and the dry atmosphere has preserved them so beautifully that they may be indented with the fingernail. Black-and-white pottery and corrugated ware blackened on the inside are the only sorts noticed among the sherds. Turquoise beads have been found here. As this is a national monument, excavation is forbidden, but vandals have torn up the floor in search of treasure.

She also mentions a “desiccated body of an infant” found in one of the caves.  According to the administrative history four such mummies were allegedly found in the cliff dwellings at various points in the late nineteenth century and sent to the Smithsonian, which apparently never received any of them.  It’s not clear which of these Watson refers to, or where she got her information.

Pictographs on Cave Wall behind Room, Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument

Watson also mentions the red pictographs found in the caves, which she says are “supposed to be the work of later tribes.”  As the administrative history notes, it’s not clear who is supposing this or why.  More recently, Polly Schaafsma has classified these pictographs as belonging to the Mogollon Red style, which is also found to the northwest in the area around Reserve, New Mexico.  She also thinks the pictographs in the caves were made by residents of the cliff dwellings standing on rooftops, which makes sense given their positions and firmly dates them to the late thirteenth century AD.  There are other pictograph locations in and around the monument, including one in Lower Scorpion Campground that is quite impressive in its number and variety of designs.

Pictographs at Lower Scorpion Campground

The Mogollon Red style is very different from most other Southwestern rock art styles, at least the ones I’ve seen examples of.  It includes a lot of abstract geometrical designs and stick-figure humans, and is always in the form of pictographs rather than petroglyphs.  It is particularly different from the Jornada style found to the east in the Mimbres and Jornada Mogollon regions, which consists mainly of petroglyphs and has a lot of naturalistic animals and human faces or masks.  Schaafsma has proposed that the Jornada style represents an ideological system that later developed into the kachina cult of the modern Pueblos.  The Mogollon Red style forms another link between the Gila Cliff Dwellings and areas to the north and west, reinforcing the impression from pottery styles that link them to the Tularosa area.  This is interesting given their geographical proximity to the Mimbres area, with its very different iconographic traditions, and strongly supports the idea that the builders of the cliff dwellings were immigrants from somewhere to the north.

That’s about all I’ve found in the published literature about the cliff dwellings.  Clearly they have a lot of potential to shed light on a number of issues important in the study of Southwestern prehistory, especially interregional relationships and migration, but so far they have not been widely incorporated into discussion of those issues.
ResearchBlogging.org
Watson, E. (1929). Caves of the Upper Gila River, New Mexico American Anthropologist, 31 (2), 299-306 DOI: 10.1525/aa.1929.31.2.02a00070

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Westwater Cliff Dwelling, Utah

I’ve been following the case of Bob Knowlton, the artifacts dealer from Grand Junction, Colorado who was arrested as part of the big pothunting sting operation centered on Blanding, Utah that has been playing out over the past couple of years, for a while now, so I should note that he was recently sentenced to 18 months probation, with that probation also apparently including a ban from federal land for the same period.  (The Salt Lake Tribune article describes him as being banned from federal land “for collecting purposes” for the 18 months, but collecting from federal land is already illegal so presumably Knowlton is being banned more generally.)  Obviously this is a very light sentence, which we’ve seen before in some of the other cases stemming from this investigation, but it was part of a plea deal in which Knowlton, who originally pleaded not guilty, ended up pleading guilty to just one count of selling a single artifact, a pipe from Big Westwater Ruin near Blanding that he apparently bought from a relative of the archaeologist who excavated that site, to a federal operative.  It’s not clear what else that deal involved; Knowlton doesn’t appear to be particularly well-connected to the networks of wealthy collectors who may be the government’s ultimate goal.  His indictment focused on where he got the artifacts, specifically from various federal employees and archaeologists who should not have been selling them, rather than what he did with them, so his plea deal may involve a move by investigators “upstream” toward the sources of illicit artifacts rather than “downstream” toward their destinations.

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Turquoise-Encrusted Cow Skull, Santa Fe, New Mexico

In 1527 an expedition led by the Spanish nobleman Pánfilo de Narváez left Spain with the intention of conquering and colonizing Florida.  Accompanying the expedition as treasurer was Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca, who ended up being one of a handful of survivors of the disastrous expedition.  Cabeza de Vaca later wrote an account of the expedition and the years it took for him and the other survivors to make their way from Galveston Island, where they had been shipwrecked after a series of disasters in Florida itself, to Culiacán in what is now the state of Sinaloa in western Mexico, where in 1536 they finally encountered other Spaniards who were busy conquering that area.  This account has become a classic of the ethnohistoric literature, both because Cabeza de Vaca was an unusually perceptive observer of the various native peoples he encountered during his travels and because very little other information is available about those peoples, whose numbers and cultures were later devastated by permanent European settlement so quickly and thoroughly that few observations about them were published.

One of the interesting episodes described by Cabeza de Vaca occurred when the small group of Spaniards arrived at a village where the inhabitants gave one of his companions a large copper bell decorated with a face.  When the Spanish, who were always very interested in any metals they could find, asked where it had come from the people told them they had acquired it from a neighboring group and that it had come originally from the north, where there was abundant copper.  At the next village the group visited they showed the people the bell, and were told that there was indeed much more copper where it had come from, in the form of both bells and plates, and that there were permanent dwellings in that area.  Cabeza de Vaca apparently concluded that the copper had come from the Pacific coast, which was indeed a major area of copper production in Mesoamerica.  This particular bell, however, and the other copper objects mentioned by the people he spoke to in the villages he visited probably did not come from West Mexico.

Macaw Feathers and Copper Bell on Display at Chaco Visitor Center Museum

This episode has been of considerable interest to archaeologists, as copper bells were among the most important items of trade between Mesoamerica, especially West Mexico, and the Greater Southwest.  They have been found in considerable numbers at Chaco Canyon, as well as at Hohokam and Sinagua sites in Arizona and various other parts of the Southwest.  One archaeologist, Jeremiah Epstein of the University of Texas, published an article in 1991 looking carefully at Cabeza de Vaca’s account and correlating it with known archaeological evidence and other ethnohistorical sources from later Spanish expeditions.  He concluded that it the likely source of the bell mentioned by Cabeza de Vaca, as well as other copper objects mentioned by the Ibarra expedition in 1565 and the Rodríguez-Chamuscado expedition in 1581, was the well-known site of Casas Grandes in northern Chihuahua.

The exact route of Cabeza de Vaca’s travels has been a matter of considerable debate.  Epstein’s article relied on a reconstruction of the route that placed the copper bell episode near the modern city of Monclova, in the state of Coahuila in northeastern Mexico.  This is about 500 miles southeast of Casas Grandes, which fits well with the claim that the bell Cabeza de Vaca mentions came from the north.  In addition, the Ibarra expedition visited the immediate area of Casas Grandes and reported copper ornaments among the local population there, and the Rodríguez-Chamuscado expedition encountered copper objects among groups in the Rio Grande valley east of Casas Grandes who reported that they came from the west.  Epstein concluded from these reports that Casas Grandes is the most likely source for the copper objects of the archaeological sites in the Greater Southwest known to have had large numbers of copper bells.  Furthermore, Epstein noted that while many Southwestern archaeological sites had copper bells, very few had bells in decorated with human faces, which Cabeza de Vaca clearly stated to be a characteristic of the bell he described.  Casas Grandes did have this type of bell, and it also had a variety of flat copper artifacts that could be plausibly described as the “plates” mentioned by the second village Cabeza de Vaca described.  (Interestingly, such “plates” seem to be virtually restricted to Casas Grandes in the Southwest, although copper bells are pretty common.  The only possible example of a flat copper artifact like this at another site was found in Room 2 of Pueblo Bonito.)  I find his specific reasoning about each line of evidence a bit less solid than he did, but all together I think he was probably right to point to Casas Grandes as the most likely source for the copper artifacts described by the sixteenth-century Spanish sources.

Doorway into Room 2 from Room 36, Pueblo Bonito

The most interesting thing about this, as Epstein noted in his article, is that Casas Grandes had been abandoned for about a century when Cabeza de Vaca came through the area and saw the bell that apparently came from there.  When it was occupied, Casas Grandes was one of the largest and most important sites in the whole region, and excavations there have shown that it was a major center for a variety of Mesoamerican-derived activities, including macaw breeding and copper working.  The bells and other copper artifacts found there were apparently made there, in contrast to those found at Chaco, which was occupied significantly earlier and imported its copper bells from West Mexico, which at that time was the only part of Mesoamerica to practice copper working.  By the late Postclassic period, however, when Casas Grandes flourished, copper metallurgy had become a standard practice at major centers throughout the Mesoamerican culture area.

In the sixteenth century, however, Casas Grandes was very clearly no longer occupied.  The Ibarra expedition, which came through the area in 1565, found the site already a ruin, and the only local people were hunter-gatherers living in simple, impermanent dwellings quite different from the imposing multi-story adobe edifices at Casas Grandes.  These hunter-gatherers, however, did have some copper “plates” which parallel the ones reported by Cabeza de Vaca’s sources.  The expedition also noted evidence of metalworking at the ruins of Casas Grandes, but did not mention any evidence that the current inhabitants had made their copper plates themselves.

So how did the hunter-gatherers who lived around Casas Grandes in 1565 get their copper plates, and how did the people in Coahuila in the 1530s and the people living along the Rio Grande in 1581 get their copper bells?  Epstein’s answer, which I find quite convincing, is that the local hunter-gatherers dug into the ruins to get the copper artifacts in them, then traded them to various other groups in northern Mexico.  That is to say, they “looted” the site for economic gain much the way modern pothunters in the Southwest and elsewhere do.  Indeed, according to Epstein, the extensive excavations at Casas Grandes conducted by Charles Di Peso for the Amerind Foundation in the 1970s uncovered “evidence of Precolumbian vandalism” (in Epstein’s words) in some areas of the site.  So it seems looting of archaeological sites has a long history in the Southwest.

Jerome, Arizona from Tuzigoot National Monument

What I find most interesting about this is the parallel to the situation in modern cities, which now contain such huge amounts of certain materials, especially copper, that they are becoming a major source for materials that have traditionally been mined from nonrenewable natural deposits such as those that spurred the settlement of Western mining towns like Jerome, ArizonaJohn Fernandez of MIT discusses this issue, drawing on the work of Tom Graedel at Yale, in this video from 2007 (starting at about 21:29).

Fernandez quotes Jane Jacobs as saying that “our cities are the mines of the future.”  And, at least as Fernandez presents it, that does indeed seem like a prescient statement.  Epstein’s article, however, demonstrates that digging for copper in abandoned homes is hardly a new phenomenon.  Like so much else that humans do today, it has a very long history.  The cities of today may be the mines of the future, but the cities of yesterday have already become the mines of the past.
ResearchBlogging.org
Epstein, J. (1991). Cabeza de Vaca and the Sixteenth-Century Copper Trade in Northern Mexico American Antiquity, 56 (3) DOI: 10.2307/280896

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Momentum

Albert R. Lyman Middle School, Blanding, Utah

There has been a lot going on in the Blanding artifacts cases lately, mostly in the form of guilty pleas by various suspects.  Back when Jeanne and Jericca Redd pleaded guilty I noted that, given their prominence, their choice not to fight the charges might inspire others to plead guilty as well, and it looks like that may be what’s now happening.  The extremely light punishment the Redds got probably also played a role, but it’ll be interesting to see what sorts of sentences these other people get.  As far as I can tell none of them are facing the same judge who sentenced the Redds.  I keep saying that these guilty pleas must be part of plea bargains, but so far no information about the nature of those agreements has come to light, probably because it’s being used in ongoing investigations of other players in the looting networks.  I would guess, based on the way the authorities have been conducting these cases so far, that they don’t really care about these Blanding people and are mostly using them to get at the big dealers and/or collectors, but that’s the sort of thing that won’t be apparent for a while even if it is what’s going on in the background.

Sleeping Ute Mountain from Edge of the Cedars State Park, Blanding, Utah

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More Blanding Guilty Pleas

Roomblock at Mule Canyon Ruin, Southern Utah

I haven’t been keeping close track of the Blanding pothunting cases recently, but it seems there have been a couple of guilty pleas.  Obviously this is good news for prosecutors, but as we saw with the Redds a lot depends on what happens at sentencing.  Presumably these pleas involved some sort of deal, but the nature and consequences of any such deal are unlikely to be apparent for a while.  As always, the best approach to interpreting these events is to wait and see.

"Points of Interest in the Area" Sign at Mule Canyon Ruin, Southern Utah

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No Way Out

Overlook of Westwater Cliff Dwelling, Blanding, Utah

Via Keith Kloor, I see that the undercover operative at the heart of the Blanding pothunting arrests has apparently committed suicide.  This is the third suicide of someone connected to the case since the indictments were issued.  I mentioned a while ago that this is a difficult position for someone to be in, as shown by the threats to the informant by a Blanding resident who was recently sentenced to jail for them.  I don’t have much more to say about this development except that it’s very sad.  Some problems have solutions.  Others don’t.

Westwater Canyon, Blanding, Utah

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Parry Lodge, Kanab, Utah

Several years ago I was in Kanab, Utah on the Fourth of July.  When the segment of the town parade representing the local office of the Bureau of Land Management went by, a man standing near me in the crowd yelled out “Management, not ownership!”  The people around him laughed and slapped him on the back good-naturedly.  It was obvious that he was just saying what they were all thinking.  This was just a few years after President Clinton’s controversial establishment of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, which is administered by the BLM’s Kanab Field Office, and there was still a lot of obvious bitterness about that.

Sign for Anasazi Indian State Park, Boulder, Utah

I was there because my family had decided to do a big trip that summer to explore the new monument.  I was a teenager at the time and had never been to that area, but my parents used to go to Kanab and the surrounding area a lot before I was born and they were curious to see if and how it had changed with the new designation.  (It’s also just a beautiful area; I went through it again last year when I did a big road trip to California.)

Sign Describing Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Kanab, Utah

We did a lot of things on that trip.  We camped at Calf Creek in the monument itself and visited Anasazi State Park in Boulder, Utah, which is a fascinating place, of considerably more importance archaeologically than I realized at the time.  We ended up in Kanab, where we stayed at Parry Lodge, which prides itself on its history of housing movie stars who came to film in the area, and which was also where my parents used to stay when they had come to Kanab years before.  It’s a nice little town, but it’s definitely part of southern Utah and has its share of the political attitudes typical there, as shown clearly by the man’s outburst at the parade.

Linear Roomblock at Coombs Village (Anasazi State Park), Boulder, Utah

That kind of attitude toward the BLM in particular, and the federal government in general, is very common in southern Utah.  It’s particularly obvious right now in light of the outrage over a leaked government document mulling the possibility of establishing new national monuments throughout the West, including at two sites in southern Utah, but it’s been there for as long as there have been white people in the area and it’s never really diminished.  Another recent example of the same attitude is the local reaction to the arrests in the Blanding pothunting sting, many of which portrayed it as an example of the BLM and FBI overreacting to a harmless hobby and oppressing good people for no reason except to show that they could.

Entrance Sign for Natural Bridges National Monument

There’s a fundamental selfishness and sense of entitlement lurking behind this attitude, a feeling by many of these people that they should be allowed to do whatever they want just by virtue of being who they are.  How exactly “who they are” is defined differs in different contexts, but most of the time I think it boils down to being white people (often specifically white men) in a country where the untrammeled right of certain white people to do anything they want has long been a powerful ideal.  It’s an easy attitude to imbibe as a white person growing up in America, and I think it’s much more widespread than extreme examples in the rural West would suggest.  I’ve encountered plenty of good liberals who are quite happy to propose and support policies that restrict the ability of others (corporations, polluters, police, soldiers, etc.) to do whatever they want, but whenever their own freedom is threatened suddenly change their tune.  It’s an easy enough attitude to understand, and I don’t mean to be accusing anyone of hypocrisy here.  I’ve certainly done plenty of this sort of thing myself.  I’m mostly just suggesting a bit more humility and a bit less self-righteousness on everyone’s part, not as a transcendent moral principle but as a practical way to get along in a pluralistic society with lots of conflicting interests and opinions.

Southern Utah Regional Map, Kanab, Utah

It’s in that context that I note a good post by Keith Kloor on the monument kerfluffle, which includes a link to a very good meditation on some of these issues from an environmental journalist who is very clearly aware of his own sense of entitlement when it comes to issues of wildness and preservation.  Resource management and preservation are fundamentally difficult issues to address, and there are no easy answers.  There are too many conflicting priorities and contrasting opinions for there to ever be a simple way out.

Sign for Butler Wash Ruins Overlook, Southern Utah

Keith’s quote from Ed Abbey is a case in point.  I’ve never read any Abbey, but I know my dad hated him, more for The Monkey Wrench Gang than for Desert Solitaire, which I don’t remember him ever mentioning.  I’m not sure what it was exactly about Abbey that rubbed him the wrong way, but I suspect it had to do with what Abbey represented: the outsider blundering crudely through a place extolling its virtues without ever really understanding it the way the locals did.  My dad was very much a local in the Southwest, and while he had his own strain of entitled-white-guy thinking, it was very different from Abbey’s.  It wasn’t so much Abbey’s environmentalism per se that annoyed people like my dad and his relatives, many of whom were strong supporters of the Sierra Club, Rachel Carson, and the “mainstream” environmental movement that they saw as totally compatible with their small-town petit bourgeois Republican worldview.  Abbey, though, was different, a representative of a worldview that, while “environmentalist” in some sense, seemed to be more about self-indulgent destruction and nihilistic romanticism than about stewardship and preservation.  It was people like Abbey, and especially his more extreme acolytes, who I think contributed heavily to the souring of local white people in the rural West on environmentalism in general and activist groups composed mainly of people from elsewhere in particular.  It’s a shame, too, because there is actually a lot of sentiment among westerners in favor of conserving natural resources and limiting destructive development, but these days that sentiment seems to be used mainly as a rhetorical cudgel against environmental groups, giving cover to exploitative corporations, some of which have become pretty good at ingratiating themselves with local communities.  I don’t mean to try to pin all of this on Abbey, since there has obviously been a lot of other stuff going on that has contributed to this dynamic, but I do think he played a role.

Butler Wash Ruins Overlook, Southern Utah

One other thing about Abbey that Keith notes in his post, however, is the fact that he was living in Hoboken, New Jersey when he completed Desert Solitaire, and he may even have written the whole thing there.  One way to interpret this, in light of what I wrote above, is that it reinforces his “outsider” status relative to the West, but I think there’s a better way to look at it.  Abbey’s West, like most people’s, existed primarily in his mind, and his perception of the landscapes he wrote about was filtered through his experiences and preconceptions.  That doesn’t make it any less “real,” however.  Abbey’s books, which I emphasize again I have not read, should stand or fall on their own merits, regardless of how much or how little time their author spent in the places they describe.  I’m a strong believer in the idea that physically being in a place, while helpful and perhaps necessary to having a “complete” or well-rounded understanding of it, is not a necessary precondition for talking about it at all.  Indeed, I could hardly think otherwise, given that I write all about the Southwest on this blog while living in (a different part of) New Jersey myself.  For me, then, the idea of Abbey sitting in a bar in Hoboken recalling the canyons of Utah makes me more sympathetic to him, not less.

Slickrock along Trail to Butler Wash Overlook, Southern Utah

Personally, I’m not a very adventurous type.  I’ve been a lot of places and I’ve seen a lot of things, and those experiences have been immensely valuable to me, but I’d fundamentally prefer to be sitting in a cute little coffeeshop somewhere, reading or writing a book, rather than hiking across slickrock canyon rims contemplating the beauty of the landscape.  Not that I don’t enjoy the latter, but it’s not my usual preference.  Personal preferences don’t matter that much to larger issues most of the time, but when aggregated across large numbers of people they do add up, and in the context of resource protection there are actually some important implications.  One way to look at it, and by no means the only one, is to ask a simple question: On the margin, who is impacting the landscape more, the reader in the coffeeshop or the hiker on the canyon rim?

Bench on Trail to Butler Wash Overlook, Southern Utah

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Pueblo del Arroyo and South Gap

The American Southwest is often considered, archaeologically, a peripheral area on the fringes of the large and important Mesoamerican culture area to the south, and while this view was out of favor during the heyday of processualism in the 1970s and 1980s it has since begun to return a bit, at least in Chacoan circles, due to some recent developments.  While it’s always hard to define concepts like “core” and “periphery” in ways that make them useful in practice, I think it’s pretty reasonable to see the Southwest as outside of Mesoamerica, but significantly influenced by it in many ways.

Mesoamerica doesn’t go on forever, of course, so it has a southern periphery as well.  Around the border of Guatemala and Honduras it starts to shade into the very different Central American cultural area, which I think can usefully be seen as in an analogous position to the Southwest.  One way it differs, however, is that while the Southwest forms a frontier between the large-scale agricultural societies of Mexico and the hunter-gatherers further north, Central America is really more of a lull between Mesoamerica to the north and the equally sophisticated (but very different) societies of the Andes to the south.  Given this intermediate position, the societies of Central America were subject to a complicated and fascinating mix of influences from both directions.

Macaw Feathers on Display at Visitor Center Museum

Via Derek Fincham, Maggie Koerth-Baker has two posts at BoingBoing on the archaeology of Costa Rica that make for fascinating reading in this context.  The parallels to the Southwest, in both the past (Mesoamerican influence but no state-level societies!) and the present (massive looting!) are remarkable.  The website she links to has a lot more information on this little-known but important area.  I think its “Conclusions” page is particularly interesting reading from a Southwestern perspective:

Why did the cultural evolutionary process in Costa Rica (and the Intermediate Area in general), similar in its early stages to that observed in Mesoamerica and Peru, sputter and stall? Why did no “urban” centers with large pyramid complexes appear? Robert Carneiro believes that historical evidence shows that no autonomous socio-political unit, large or small, will voluntarily relinquish sovereignty in the name of cooperation or the “greater social good.” Only through forceful domination (war) are states and empires forged. Betty J. Meggers postulates that endemic warfare in an “open” environment like Amazonia, overtly waged for reasons like revenge, supernatural mandates, and the taking of exogamous marriage partners, is, in reality, a regulatory device for human population in an area with a precarious ecological balance. Warfare in Costa Rica may have functioned in this fashion, and may have been even more intense, given greater population densities. Why did this conflict not result in the amalgamation of larger, more complex socio-political structures, as it apparently did in parts of Mesoamerica and Peru? The answer is that oppressed populations could successfully flee the threatened domination, emigrating to other, similar localities instead of being incorporated by force into the larger or more powerful conquering group. William Sanders and Barbara Price, in their essay on the development of “civilization” in Mesoamerica, note that it is not the lack of productive potential in tropical-forest areas like Amazonia that prevented the development of a complex society, but, rather, the presence of huge amounts of at least nominally agricultural land acting as an incentive to successful emigration.

While I’m generally skeptical of attempts to make cross-cultural generalizations on issues like this, I think the relevance of these arguments to several ongoing debates in Southwestern archaeology is clear.

Ballcourt at Wupatki National Monument

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Excavated Room at Casa Malpais, Springerville, Arizona

Excavated Room at Casa Malpais, Springerville, Arizona

Via Paul Barford, an interesting post on pay-to-dig programs in the US.  These aren’t extremely common, but they’re out there.  The basic idea is to charge artifact collectors to dig at a site and let them keep whatever they find.  The sites are on private land, so this is all legal, but it’s definitely sleazy and just as destructive of the archaeological record as anything Jeanne Redd did.

Sherd with Checkered Pattern, Kin Klizhin

Sherd with Checkered Pattern, Kin Klizhin

I found this one particularly interesting, given my own interests.  The text on the website is terse and very circumspect, but there are a few details evident from the About page and the pictures.  The sites are described as being in “northeastern Arizona” (hm, sounds familiar…), and judging from the architecture and pottery in the photos, it looks like they’re probably in the White Mountains/Mogollon Rim area, which is known for numerous sites with mixed Mogollon and Anasazi cultural influences.  The Black-on-white sherd in one of the pictures looks like Cibola White Ware, which is common in that area, although it wouldn’t look out of place at Chaco either.

Texas Farm Road 1933 Sign, Mentone, Texas

Texas Farm Road 1933 Sign, Mentone, Texas

Also interesting is this effort by collectors in Texas to move away from looting-in-all-but-name and more toward some sort of collaborative effort with developers to excavate sites with professional methods in a salvage framework.  Salvage archaeology is one of the main things professional archaeologists do, of course, but it’s almost always on public lands or for publicly funded infrastructure projects, where it’s mandated by law.  On private land it’s generally not necessary, and an enormous amount of information is lost all the time when private development occurs in archaeologically rich areas.  Some states have laws regulating this and requiring efforts to reduce it, but Texas has nothing of the sort, and indeed it has particularly strong laws protecting landowners’ rights to their property.  Unlike most other states, at least in the Southwest, Texas doesn’t even have a burial law, so as far as I know there aren’t even any restrictions on dealing with human remains on private property.  In this context it’s pretty interesting to see this effort by collectors, and I think it might be one of the most viable ways for the collecting community to contribute positively to archaeological knowledge.  The leader certainly seems to have a vision for transforming the artifact trade.  It’s going to be hard work to change things, though, especially since the only way to really make a difference would be to create and enforce a very stringent code of ethics among collectors that would force illegally or unethically excavated artifacts off the market.  It’s conceivable that this could be done, but like any collective action problem it’s a daunting challenge.  If it could be done, though, it would definitely be worth the hard work, and I don’t think there are any easier or more plausible solutions on offer, so I wish these folks luck.

Federal Courthouse, Austin, Texas

Federal Courthouse, Austin, Texas

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The Issues

Anasazi Heritage Center, Dolores, Colorado

Anasazi Heritage Center, Dolores, Colorado

David Gill has a good post on the various issues involved in discussions of cultural property.  He makes a key distinction between recent looting fueled by the antiquities market and disputes over the ownership and display of artifacts acquired by museums long ago, before the passage of the laws that currently regulate these things.  These are related concerns, obviously, but they’re not identical.  His focus is on Europe, but I think the issues he’s talking about are of universal concern.  In the Southwest most of the attention recently has been on the looting issue, analogous to the problems with looting in Italy and Greece that the governments of those countries have been aggressively fighting, with some success in forcing the repatriation of looted artifacts that surface in other countries.  There are parallels to the other issues as well, however, and the vast majority of the artifacts excavated by early expeditions to the Southwest remain in the vaults of museums in New York and elsewhere.  Anyway, the post is well worth a read.

Anasazi Indian State Park Visitor Center, Boulder, Utah

Anasazi Indian State Park Visitor Center, Boulder, Utah

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