|30 December 2007
Ancient petroglyphs lie amidst suburban sprawl
An ancient 40-ton jungle gym of sorts, the massive burnt umber boulder anchors a neighborhood park and beckons suburban kids to clamber over its mysterious Anasazi etchings. And climb aboard they do, sometimes even attempting to scratch their own marks before the adults run them off, neighbors say. Archaeologists typically warn against even smudging natural skin oils on the chiseled drawings or the rock's natural mineral glaze so they won't slowly melt away. "I've climbed on it," acknowledged Melissa Cornwall, whose in-laws live next to backyard-sized Petroglyph Park in the city's Bloomington subdivision, near the meeting place of southern Utah's Great Basin and the Mojave Desert (USA).
The state's fastest-growing cities are gobbling up millennium-old rock art. "This is our past. It's like our library," said Dorena Martineau, cultural resources director for the Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah. Homebuilders long have surrounded or even dynamited the desert boulders that tell the old tales. Martineau's late father photographed and interpreted countless rocks before two Washington County dams flooded the area. Now housing developers are capitalizing on and marketing petroglyph parks that give subdivisions a distinction but inevitably suck some of the soul out of sacred landscapes.
Having sprawled, with 137 percent population growth since 1990, St. George has Utah's most endangered rock art. But Anasazi and Fremont Indian petroglyphs and pigment-brushed pictographs are sprinkled generously across even northern Utah's sage-studded hills. So generously, Utah State Archaeologist Kevin Jones said, that there's no good way of knowing how many have been destroyed or chipped off for living-room collections during the state's continuing population boom. Nonetheless, Jones is especially excited about a Kanab developer's plans, which incorporate not just rock art but an excavated pithouse, clay pots and other relics from more than 1,000 years of Anasazi occupation before it became a cattle ranch.
Doug McFadden, a retired U.S. Bureau of Land Management archaeologist, said this chance to excavate on private land is unique. The planned subdivision is on the west bank of Kanab Creek, and was claimed as private land more than a century ago for the same reason that the Anasazis lived and farmed there for so long: water. The result is an exceptionally rich window into Anasazi life. McFadden is working for developer Milo McCowan, who has directed him to find the least-disturbing sites for roads and homes. Ultimately he plans to dedicate a museum exhibiting the culture that abruptly fizzled from the state around 1200 CE.
The neighborhood preservation trend is creeping northward. Salt Lake County, with its 1 million residents, long ago paved over most of its ancient curios, State Archaeologist Jones said. But the west side of Utah Lake, which is the Wasatch Front's new growth monster, has a chance to keep history alive. "I look at it as a real special amenity that not many places have," he said. "Whether or not that sells more houses, I'm not sure." The Utah Rock Art Research Association, a band of amateur researchers, hopes the preservation movement spreads down a 20-mile stretch of petroglyphs along the hayfields west of the lake.
Sources: Salt Lake Tribune, SHNS.com (24 December 2007)
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