I had been told of an alcove that held a small, sheltered archaeological site up a canyon west of Blanding, Utah. One morning I hiked up the bottom of the wash, scrambling over tumbled boulders and slogging through loose sandy gravel in the dry creekbed. Brightening light showed that the canyon widened just ahead, and as I rounded an angular, upturned boulder, the ceiling of an alcove arched above me. I had reached the site.
Images of what appeared to be bighorn sheep pecked into the sandstone seemed to frolic and dance. A crumbling portion of an ancient wall butted against the cliff and came straight out, the only remnant of a former room. And just below the wall, undercutting it, contributing to its ongoing demise, was a gaping wound, a ragged hole torn from the quiet strata that made up this ancient site. Looters had been here. Vandals, thieves, pillagers and plunderers had ripped pieces of the past from this peaceful place. I walked to the edge of the pit, the size of an ATV, and fell to my knees.
Sand grains cascaded down the sloping edges of the hole in miniature landslides. Stones, flecks of charcoal, pockets of powdery ash and clumps of hardened clay protruded from the sides of the crudely excavated gash. Clinging to a small juniper twig was a short length of z-twist cordage, an ancient piece of string. A flake of pink chert, sharp as a knife, lay near the bottom of the hole, evidence of long ago toolmaking. A pointed sliver of calcined bone, probably from a rabbit, stuck straight up from a clump of ash. A bit of a corncob protruded from the side of the hole, and just beneath it a flash of orange caught my eye a fragment of a feather, with a tiny knot of cordage clinging to its shaft.