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Opinion: Internet offers easy access to sensitive historic sites

Filed Under: Opinion
More on: arizona, navajo, pueblo

Writer warns of GPS trekkers trampling on sensitive Puebloan sites in the Southwest:
It has been called the best preserved ruin in the Southwest. Built in the 13th century by Ancestral Puebloans, its 20-odd rooms splendidly fill an oval sandstone alcove in an obscure canyon on the Navajo reservation in Arizona. When I visited the place in 2009, official permit in hand, I was content to admire the ruin through binoculars from the opposite rim and from the creek bed at its base, for the Navajo Nation forbids all access to the site. When I wrote about it, I described its location no more precisely than I have here.

If you know the name of the ruin, however, you can go on the Internet and instantly find the GPS coordinates that tell you exactly where this prehistoric wonder lies. You can also open a Flickr photo of a fellow using a climbing rope to get into the ruin, and bragging about doing so. Only one of the web postings I checked out mentioned the prohibition against entering the site or the permit needed to hike the canyon — that of the Navajo Nation itself.

The ruins and rock art left behind by the Old Ones all over the Southwest constitute, arguably, our country’s richest archaeological heritage. And they stand as mute testimony to a profound mystery — the sudden abandonment by the Ancestral Puebloans (also known as the Anasazi) of the whole of the Colorado Plateau in the years just before the beginning of the 14th century. Many of the places where the Ancestral Puebloans once flourished are not only uninhabited today; they are so remote that it can take several days of backpacking through trail-less, tortuous canyons to reach them.

Scattered about these ruins still lie broken pieces of painted pottery, chert flakes from which stone tools were made and corncobs filling granaries where the last dwellers left them. Under the dirt sleep the dead who made this world cohere.

Get the Story:
David Roberts: Leave These Southwest Ruins Alone (The New York Times 12/23)

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