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To an archaeologist, context is everything.

In order to determine the meaning, use or origin of an ancient artifact, the key is to know where it was found, how far below the surface and in the company of what other tools, religious objects or simple trash. It can be long and laborious work.

Puzzling out the real reason why the state archaeologist and his two assistants were fired Tuesday, supposedly for budget reasons alone, is also a matter of setting the event in context. But it doesn't take a lot of digging to see that the lamentable action had very little to do with payroll and everything to do with payback.

Officially, the axing of state archaeologist Kevin Jones and assistants Derinna Kopp and Ronald Rood was nothing personal, just business, forced upon the Utah Department of Community and Culture by legislative spending cuts.

But, set in its full context, the firings strongly suggest that the archaeologists had become very unpopular with the powers that be in the Legislature, governor's office, Utah Transit Authority and others in Utah's inordinately powerful real estate development business.

Looking back, it seems clear that the writing has been on the wall since the discovery that the proposed site in Draper of a new station for the FrontRunner commuter rail service, and a related transit-oriented development zone, also is the location of an ancient American Indian village. It was a major find, the earliest known example of corn cultivation in the Great Basin.

The resulting push to place the station elsewhere interrupted the plans of some powerful folks. They included developer Terry Diehl, who was wearing two hats as a member of the UTA Board of Trustees and an owner of a company planning to build the projects associated with the station. And, while Gov. Gary Herbert earned major props from the scientists and Native Americans for brokering the relocation, it looks like the other shoe had yet to drop.

It is just another in a series of examples — context, again — leading to the conclusion that the desire to pave every square inch of the Wasatch Front as soon as possible has far too much influence in our state government. Other artifacts in this lamentable dig include past decisions to cut funding for the Utah Department of Environmental Quality, even in years when the state was running a budget surplus, and knee-jerk objections to more federally protected wilderness, even when county officials are part of the process.

State officials can deny it all they want. The trail they have left tells the tale.