Buy a t-shirt instead

  I have been visiting the backcountry of the Southwest for many years. Craig Childs' statement in "Pillaging the Past" that 90 percent of archaeological sites have been vandalized seems accurate from what I have witnessed (HCN, 4/28/08). When I first set foot on Cedar Mesa in southeast Utah almost 30 years ago, artifacts such as potshards, bits of basket and human bones were abundant around archaeological sites.

Of course, much of that material was the result of the early-day diggings of the Wetherills, Green, Graham and others. The site-digging practices by locals described by Childs continued the tradition. Much of the debitage laying around archaeological sites has steadily disappeared. As more visitors travel the backcountry, the remaining bits are picked up and carried off. No one is immune to the temptation to possess a "neat treasure" no matter how small and seemingly unimportant. It is a sad state of affairs.

During a backpacking trip in Grand Gulch, our group was introduced to the concept of the "Outdoor Museum." The idea is to leave artifacts where they are found. Their meaning is so much deeper when found in context. When an artifact is of particular interest, such as a complete arrowhead, a fletched arrow shaft, a complete piece of pottery or walking stick, the artifact is carefully stashed on site so it isn't carted off.

I have to admit that during my early days of traveling the Southwest I carried off an occasional arrowhead or potshard, but I resist the temptation now. I encourage everyone to leave artifacts where you find them. To paraphrase Childs: Take your hand off it and walk away.

Bill Harris Montrose, Colorado