Guardians of the Corn

A big reason I’m drawn to the Southwest is for its well preserved archaeology. But that doesn’t mean it’s well protected, much less appreciated by native residents or politicians. That said, a cruel irony is that most new sites on public and state land are only discovered when a highway or shopping center or gas pipeline gets built.

In such cases, archaeologists are often working one step ahead of the bulldozer. Excavations are done quick and dirty. Salvage what you can for posterity.

Occasionally, though, a site is so important that even southwestern archaeologists are united (which is not often) in their conviction that preservation should win out over development.  Such is now the case in Utah, where archaeologists are lobbying to keep a proposed rail station in a Salt Lake City suburb from being built over a 3,000 year old “archaic” village site, which was discovered in 2007.

Usually, Utah archaeologists don’t rock the boat. (More on that in a minute.) But preliminary findings from this ancient site reveal the presence of maize. That’s incredible. Most scientists today believe farming didn’t hit the Great Basin until 2,000 years ago. So I can understand why the site is considered so “rare and unique” by members of the Utah Professional Archaeological Council (UPAC). Matthew Seddon, a UPAC member, told the Salt Lake Tribune that the ruins

could reshape our understanding of the development of agriculture in the West.

So UPAC members, who have mobilized on their listserv, are to be applauded for taking the fight to their state legislature. I just wish they had this kind of fight in them when it became clear that Nine Mile Canyon, another rare Utah archaeological treasure, was being overrun by hundreds of oil and gas trucks a day. (To learn how the BLM allowed that to happen, see my story here in High Country News.)

I guess its easier taking on a suburban developer than the BLM or the oil and gas industry.

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