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By Jim Allison

BRUCE Burgess

and Jeff Allen

The June 21 firings of three archeologists from the Antiquities Section of the Utah Division of State History raise serious questions about Utah state government's commitment to archaeological preservation.

These archaeologists provided critical, and legally required, services to the state. The likely results will include delays to development projects that inadvertently uncover human remains or other archaeological materials and reduced protection of the state's world-class archaeological resources.

Utah has an important archeological heritage. We have over 100,000 documented archeological sites ranging from remnants of our pioneer heritage to traces of human occupation dating back more than 10,000 years. Some of these sites are spectacular ruins or rock art sites important for what they tell us about the ancient inhabitants of our state and for the way they convey aspects of those ancient people's lives to modern visitors.

Thousands of other sites are less spectacular but are still important for the scientific information they contain. Some sites contain the unmarked graves of our predecessors, whose remains deserve respectful treatment.

Our archeological heritage is not just a "nice to have" resource. It is also an important source of jobs in many of our rural counties. Utah's ruins and rock art are a tourism resource throughout the state. They also provide valuable and otherwise inaccessible information about the state's early residents and about the environments they lived in.

For Native Americans, many archaeological sites are important for religious reasons. As representatives of three organizations concerned with preserving and learning from Utah's archaeological heritage, the value of archaeological resources seems self-evident to us. But clearly some other residents of the state attach less importance to archaeological preservation, and some powerful people find any consideration of archaeological resources inconvenient.

Fortunately, both state and federal law acknowledge the public's interest in the preservation, protection and scientific study of archaeological resources. State law gives the Antiquities Section important duties in the management of archaeological resources. Specifically, the Antiquities Section provides:

1. Long-term, secure management of archaeological data for state and federal agencies;

2. Public outreach and education;

3. Recovery of ancient human remains discovered on non-federal lands in Utah;

4. Determination of cultural affiliation of human remains in accordance with complicated state and federal laws;

5. An official source for information about Utah archaeology;

6. Advice to state and local government agencies about how to deal with archaeological management issues.

Gov. Gary Herbert and other members of his administration have pointed out that the state continues to employ archaeologists, but the archaeologists who work elsewhere in state government have responsibilities specific to their respective agencies. None of them duplicates the services that state law requires the Antiquities Section to provide. We believe all of these functions are appropriate and important, and are concerned that the Antiquities Section now lacks adequate staffing to provide them.

Several aspects of the recent events create the appearance that the Antiquities Section employees were fired, in part, for advocating the protection of archaeological resources, and specifically for opposing the original location of the Draper FrontRunner station. The fact that the firings were effective immediately creates the impression that they were punitive rather than a means to increase efficiency. The governor's assertion that these are just three among a thousand similar firings seems, at best, to be a gross exaggeration.

How many, if any, of the other 997 employees cited by Herbert were fired summarily and marched out of the building after decades of service to the state?

We strongly support the important work of the Antiquities Section and are concerned that the firings will impede this work. Under state law the Antiquities Section is required to "provide advice on the protection and orderly development of archaeological resources."

Given the appearance that the firings may have been retribution for carrying out exactly this responsibility, what assurance is there that any future employee of the Antiquities Section will feel free to offer independent, professionally valid advice?

The governor should reaffirm Utah's commitment to archaeological preservation, and ensure that the Antiquities Section has the staff and the independence to fulfill its legal responsibilities.

Jim Allison is president of the Utah Professional Archaeological Council; Bruce Burgess is president of the Utah Statewide Archaeological Society; Jeff Allen is president of the Utah Rock Art Research Association.