"Archeological sites threatened by vandalism" -- The Rebel Yell, November 17, 2011
Nevada's historic cultural areas endangered by uninformed, expanding population
Since I started this blog I've discussed the need to inform the public about archaeological sites in their region. This article is a good example as to why they need to understand what an archaeological site is and why it's important to protect and value it as a rich part of the heritage of this land. On to the article.
The Cultural Site Stewardship Program at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, is an archaeological watchdog group that works under the Public Lands Institute and struggles against the ongoing vandalism against Nevada's cultural resources.
Native American and prehistoric sites are damaged almost on a weekly basis. Habitation areas, such as rock shelters and Indian houses, known as wickiups, are the only remnants of past civilizations and lost cities found throughout the valley.
Project Manager George Phillips states that a lack of education within the general population causes the problem, as people don't understand what they are looking at when they see an archaeological site -- something the program is looking to combat with educational lectures held on a regular basis. [emphasis added]
A total of 122 incidents of significant impacts to cultural sites were recorded in a year. There are 7,000 square miles in Clark County (Las Vegas) and several millions of acres in Nevada. The Cultural Site Stewardship Program has a difficult time defending all of the known sites, not to mention all of the unknown sites.
"There are not enough rangers who can cover and protect these areas as law officials. So we step in with volunteers who are trained and go out and monitor these sites and see what changes occur from one time to another," Phillips said. "The stewards are trained to know what their site is and what to watch for and changes are reported. The Bureau of Land Management decides what action to take at that point."
There are groups that assist the program by looking for abandon mines and groups that are trained in surveying to record the locations of sites.
The work this group is doing is needed throughout the state. Literally thousands of sites are recorded across the state in a single field season. Many of those sites are not what the state considers "significant" and would be nearly impossible to protect. That being said, there is still a great deal to learn from these insignificant sites. I've recorded sites before that were littered with flakes and some bifaces but contained no formal tools. These sites were looted in the sense that the formal tools were removed. However, the "looters" were likely ranchers and hunters that didn't know that leaving the tool where it was found was more important than putting it into a jar with others on the mantle at home.
Maybe education is what we really need. Although, at times it seems hopeless. Some people just don't think it's wrong to pick up or damage artifacts. While walking around the desert it would seem absurd to not disturb a pile of rusty cans or a single projectile point if you didn't know how much there was to learn from them. It's developing a respect for "other people's things", just like our parents were supposed to teach us, that people need to learn. I don't know how to teach that to grown adults. Education should start with people as young as possible and continue throughout their lifetimes. A tall order indeed.