The Colorado Plateau is internationally famous for its canyons and spectacular natural beauty, but it also contains the largest concentration of prehistoric ruins, rock art and artifacts in the world.
Those traces of its past
are being lost, looted and vandalized at an alarming rate. That is
the conclusion of Grand Canyon Trust staffer Rick Moore, who spent
a year researching the state of cultural resources on the Plateau.
He found law enforcement so ineffective that more than 22,000 sites
have been looted. Despite clear legal mandates, the first felony
conviction wasn't obtained until 1992.
cases include boaters on Lake Powell who ripped the roof beams out
of a small ruin tucked into a sandstone alcove, then used the beams
for firewood; vandals who sprayed names over ancient Hopi clan
petroglyphs along the Salt Trail; looters at a small pueblo on
state land who used an Arizona sign explaining the penalties for
damaging archaeological resources as their shovel; and a student on
a college field trip who dug up a human skull from an Anasazi
burial, then, with the professor's knowledge, took the skull back
to campus. Acting on a tip from an outraged classmate, federal
agents recovered the skull and successfully prosecuted the college,
the professor and the student.
heritage is threatened also by mining, grazing, dam and road
construction, and by an enormous increase in the visitors to
archaeological sites, Moore says.
The Bureau of
Land Management reported 2,185 properties eligible for inclusion on
the National Register of Historic Places, but not one has been
registered, Moore says, due to lack of time and
Similarly, although the Park Service
estimates it has 15.5 million uncatalogued artifacts, it has never
budgeted the $20 million it would take to catalog and curate them.
Moore believes the agencies on the Plateau are running out of time:
In 1992, more than 30 million visited the Plateau's national parks
- up from 15 million in 1980. He writes that the Southwest faces
the same situation encountered in China and England, where the Ming
tombs and Stonehenge have had to be closed to protect
The Trust's report, Preserving Traces of
the Past: Protecting the Colorado Plateau's Archaeological
Heritage, concludes that federal agencies have the laws to protect
cultural resources but lack the mandate and the money to enforce
In southern Utah, for example, one
archaeologist has responsibility for 2 million acres. Vandals who
hacked up a kachina panel on the San Juan River could have been
arrested and prosecuted, believes archaeologist Dale Davidson of
the Monticello office. They were not. With only six BLM agents
working throughout the state to deal with law-breakers of every
stripe, none could spare the time to press the case in coordination
with the FBI.
A copy of the 150-page report is
available from the Grand Canyon Trust, P.O. Box 30848, Flagstaff,
AZ 86003-9962. Include $5 for mailing costs.