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1 October 2011
Ancient New Mexican sites reopen after fire, flooding

Prehistoric archaeological sites of northern New Mexico's Bandelier National Monument (USA) have reopened to visitors, three months after the largest wildfire in the state's recorded history sent employees scrambling to save rare artefacts and irreplaceable artwork.
     The monument's visitor centre and biggest concentration of prehistoric cultural sites survived the fire, and later the flooding that sent ash, sediment and charred debris into the heart of the monument. Hazardous conditions kept the sites off-limits for weeks.
     Sights at Frijoles Canyon include the kivas (round subterranean ceremonial meeting places) dug into the canyon floor, the stone walls that surround them, the wildflowers that have overtaken the area and the dwellings carved into the canyon walls by the ancestors of modern Native Americans.
     Tucked into northern New Mexico's ancient canyons, Bandelier has a long human history that stretches back more than 10,000 years. Aside from Native Americans, Spanish settlers - and centuries later the Civilian Conservation Corp - also left their mark on the area. Nearly two-thirds of the monument was scorched during the Las Conchas fire, which started on 26 June after a tree fell on a electricity transmission line miles away. Flames raced across mesa tops and down canyons dotted with hundreds of archaeological sites.
     The threat over the past several weeks had been summer rains pounding down on the massive burn scar. The 630-square-kilometre blaze reduced entire mountainsides and canyons to ash. All but 400 hectares of the 4800-hectare upper Frijoles watershed burned, leaving no vegetation behind.

Edited from The Washington Post, Associated Press (26 September 2011)

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