Entrepreneur shovels trouble

 

UTAH

Archaeologists don't dig Anasazi Digs. The family-owned business on private land near Monticello, Utah, invites customers to excavate - and keep - artifacts from an Anasazi pueblo for $2,500 a day.

"It's like owning a Van Gogh painting and cutting it into lots of pieces," says Utah state archaeologist Kevin Jones. "The owner could do it, but it wouldn't be very ethical."

Because the ruins sit on private land, Utah laws prohibiting excavation of antiquities do not apply. Howard Ransdell, a welder and grape-grower whose family has owned the land for nearly 50 years, says he started Anasazi Digs in the hopes of preserving artifacts that would otherwise erode into the banks of a nearby creek. "It was a matter of conservation, not of arbitrarily destroying Indian ruins," he says.

Though the business has been open for several months, Ransdell reports no customers so far. And both Ransdell and Jones predict that once the digging begins, human remains will surface, in which case stringent state burial laws would apply.

Even if burial laws don't stop excavation, the business may yet become an artifact: Ransdell has offered to sell the property to the Archaeological Conservancy. Cost disagreements have postponed a sale, but the Conservancy's southwest director, Jim Walker, remains optimistic that "with time and patience, this particular project will end up in the hands of someone who's interested in preserving it."