Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Rare Guilty Pleas In Artifacts Sting - follow-up story

Here's a link to the follow up story on NPR about the artifacts raid in Blanding, Utah. Very sad really.

This certainly seems like a case where the government is singling out a particular town to make an example for everyone - and to set a precedent. It's sad to see people's lives being destroyed over digging up artifacts. At the same time, they were caught because they were selling the artifacts for profit, which makes them look a lot less innocent.

As someone who loves the outdoors and enjoys seeing intact remnants of the Anasazi and Pueblo cultures in southern Utah, I'm both surprised and impressed the federal government is actually doing something about illegal harvesting and selling of these precious treasures. It only takes one visit to a defaced petroglyph site to feel deeply disappointed in our modern human race (notice the unappealing effect the bullet holes have on the petroglyph panel above). There is a very finite number of artifacts, petroglyph panels, and preserved ruins in the Four Corners Region. I believe we should make every effort to protect these sites so that others may see them in as pristine condition as possible. On that note, I think this is a significant step towards sending a message that it's not okay to steal from this national treasure for personal gain. After all, federal land belongs to the American Public as a whole, not to individuals.

On the other hand, it's easy to understand the outrage of Blanding locals as the Federal Agents barged into their community and arrested two dozen of its members. I'm sure there's a feeling among locals that these are their artifacts. They're living there every day, they know the land better than anyone. Boundaries between private and public land probably feel arbitrary to locals who know that almost nobody except the local community will ever visit many of these sites. Most of the artifact sites are unmarked and it takes an intimate knowledge of local landscape to find them. Something you only have if you live there. Blanding is a small community in the middle of large, barren, arid landscape. Making a living on the high desert is difficult. And frankly, times are tough. Just ask the makers of the artifacts themselves, it was an economic downturn of one kind or another that forced them to leave the region in the first place. One drive through town on US Highway 191 and you'll understand it takes a certain resilient, perhaps defiant personality to survive there.

There's the two sides of the coin as I see them. I like to hear what other people think. Weigh in on the comments thread to this blog.

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