This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
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.
And then I saw it. A tiny bone, not much bigger than a small paper clip. I drew in my breath, wondering. And next to it, others, and I knew. Wrist and finger bones. The bones from a person's hand. A small person. A child's hand. The looters had dug into a grave. A child's grave. The place where years ago a family had placed the body of their dear child, perhaps with some special, meaningful family heirlooms to accompany her, to keep her safe. And now thieves had dug her up and stolen from her. Desecrated her. Sadness darkened the entire canyon.
Who was this child? Does anyone remember her? Is her existence completely forgotten? Are the offerings her family placed with her at the end of her short life displayed in someone's living room? This beloved child deserves more than to have her bones scattered by looters lusting for some ancient goodie to show others, or to sell for a pittance.
Looting is a regular occurrence in the Bears Ears region and, according to archaeologists who patrol the area, is on the increase. First protected by the Antiquities Act and later by other statutes, heritage resources lure the lowest of thieves, the worst kinds of profit-seekers grave robbers. Without increased protection and rigorous pursuit and prosecution of looters and collectors, the legacy of the ancient ones, the heritage of today's tribal people, will be shamelessly destroyed.
Utah's First District Rep. Rob Bishop hates the Antiquities Act and has stated that all who support it should die. He and his colleagues demean the motives of tribes that seek to protect the Bears Ears. They vilify those who wish to protect this unique and immensely beautiful region. They see antiquities as an impediment to development and profiteering, and turn a blind eye to grave robbing and looting.
Unlike their representatives, Utahns support protection and preservation of ancient places. Because of that, I add my voice to the chorus of tribes and citizens imploring President Obama to use his authority under the Antiquities Act to create the Bears Ears National Monument and stop the hateful, purposeful destruction of this anointed place.
Kevin T. Jones is the former state archaeologist of Utah. He lives in Salt Lake City.