Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Ancient Pueblo Peoples: Leave These Southwest Ruins Alone.

Op-Ed Contributor

Leave These Southwest Ruins Alone

Wren McDonald

It has been called the best preserved ruin in the Southwest. 
Built in the 13th century by Ancient Pueblo peoples (Anasazi*), its 20-odd rooms splendidly fill an oval sandstone alcove in an obscure canyon on the Navajo reservation in Arizona. 
Nowadays, many people are not obeying the prohibition against entering the site nor obtaining the permit needed to hike the canyon — that of the Navajo Nation itself. 

The ruins and rock art left behind by the Ancient Ones all over the Southwest constitute, arguably, our country’s richest archaeological heritage. And they stand as mute testimony to a profound mystery — the sudden abandonment by the Ancestral Pueblo peoples of the whole of the Colorado Plateau in the years just before the beginning of the 14th century. 

Many of the places where the Anasazi once flourished are not only uninhabited today; they are so remote that it can take several days of backpacking through trail-less, tortuous canyons to reach them. 

Scattered about these ruins still lie broken pieces of painted pottery, chert flakes from which stone tools were made and corncobs filling granaries where the last dwellers left them. Under the dirt sleep the dead who made this world cohere. 

Yet no prehistoric sites in the U. S. are more fragile and vulnerable.  

A century and a half of looting and vandalism has severely damaged such monumental villages as Cliff Palace at Mesa Verde and the cave dwellings of Bandelier National Monument. 

By now, all that saves the still-pristine sites such as the one on the Navajo reservation is their obscurity and the difficulty of getting to them. 

With my fellow aficionados of the canyon country, I adhere to a rigid ethic: When you visit the ruins and rock art, disturb nothing, and if you write about them, be deliberately vague about where they are. 

The most ominous new trend is the proliferation of websites giving the GPS coordinates of those prehistoric ruins and rock art panels. Armed with those numbers, the most casual curiosity seeker need not even read a map: One can simply home in on the place with device in hand. 

And it is those folks, I believe, who are most likely to take home pots or arrowheads as souvenirs, or to damage the stone-and-adobe rooms as they clamber through them.
Can anything be done to reverse this trend? Americans are as fond of gizmos like the GPS as they are of guns. The Navajo Nation cannot be expected to post a year-round guard at that matchless ruin in the obscure canyon or at others in the remote reaches of the reservation. And government agencies cannot police the thousands of sites on federal land all over the Southwest. 

Educating the public may be the only hope. We can take heart in the virtual disappearance of some of the more rapacious crimes against Southwestern prehistory. In the early decades of the 20th century, for instance, ranchers and locals made a sport of using the petroglyphs for target practice. Their bullet scars are as indelible as the surreal humanoids carved so long ago into the sandstone.

David Roberts is the author of books about adventure and Western history, including “In Search of the Old Ones.”

Read more @ Link: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/23/opinion/leave-these-southwest-ruins-alone.html?nl=opinion&emc=edit_ty_20131223&_r=0

Ancient Pueblo Peoples

Ancient Pueblo peoples or Ancestral Pueblo peoples were an ancient Native American culture centered on the present-day Four Corners area of the United States, comprising southern Utah, northeastern Arizona, northern New Mexico, and southwestern Colorado.
 Cliff Palace at Mesa Verde
"T" shaped doorway at Balcony House. 
Emmett Harryson, a Navajo, in doorway,1929
Doorways, Pueblo Bonito in Chaco Canyon, New Mexico


They lived in a range of structures, including pit houses, pueblos, and cliff dwellings designed so that they could lift entry ladders during enemy attacks, which provided security. 

 Prehistoric roads and great houses in the San Juan Basin
Archaeologists still debate when this distinct culture emerged. The current consensus, based on terminology defined by the Pecos Classification, suggests their emergence around the 12th century BCE, during the archaeologically designated Early Basketmaker II Era. Beginning with the earliest explorations and excavations, researchers wrote that the Ancient Puebloans are ancestors of contemporary Pueblo peoples.

Archaeologists referred to one of these cultural groups as the Anasazi, although the term is not preferred by contemporary Pueblo peoples.  The word Anaasází is Navajo for "Ancient Ones" or "Ancient Enemy".  

National Park Service

George A. Grant photographer for National Park Service

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