Arizona fires are sweeping away land rich in ancient sites and artifacts

Arizona fires are sweeping away land rich in ancient sites and artifacts

In this photo, provided by the U.S. Forest Service, Jason Nez, at the center, talks to firefighters working on a fire in northern Arizona in 2021. Nez is an archaeologist and Navajo firefighter who advises firefighters on how to protect archaeological resources. Credit: Paul Dawson / US Forest Service via AP

While Jason Nez scans rocky mountains, high deserts and rocks for signs of ancient tools and dwellings unique to the southwestern United States, he has in mind that they are part of a larger picture.

And fire is nothing new to them.

“They’ve been burned many, many times, and that’s healthy,” said Nez, a Navajo archaeologist and firefighter. “We see many of our cultural resources as living, and living beings are sustainable.

As a pair of forest fires surround this northern Arizona mountain town, flames cross land dense with reminders of human existence over the centuries – high-rise stone homes, rock carvings and pieces of pottery and pottery that are well preserved in the dry climate long before the extinction. fire to become a tactic.

Today, firefighters are increasingly working to avoid or minimize damage from bulldozers and other modern tools. archeological sites and artifacts, and protects those on public display to ensure that history is not lost to future generations.

“Some of these arrowheads, some of those clay fragments “(broken pottery) you see, it has the power to change the way we look at how people have been here,” Nez said.

Crew efforts include recruiting people to advise them on wildlife and habitats, air quality and archeology. In Arizona, a handful of archaeologists have traveled miles in recent months to find evidence of significant past human activity in and around burned-out areas and map it for protection.

Arizona fires are sweeping away land rich in ancient sites and artifacts

This undated photo, provided by the Office of National Parks, shows centuries-old pottery on display at the Wupatki National Monument outside Flagstaff, Arizona. The monument and artifacts were evacuated twice in the spring of 2022 due to forest fires. Credit: National Park Service through AP

Last week alone, a crew spotted a dilapidated dwelling more than 1,000 years old, known as a pit house.

“We know that this area is really important for the tribes and is the ancestral home for them,” said Jean Forest Stevens, an archaeologist with the US Forest Service and tribal relations specialist. “When we do more research, it helps add more pieces to the puzzle in terms of what’s in the landscape.”

It’s not just scattered ruins that need protection.

The nearby Vupatki National Monument – a center of trade for local communities around the 1100s – was evacuated due to wildfires twice this year. The exhibits there contain priceless items, including 800-year-old corn, beans and pumpkins, along with intact Clovis stone points used for hunting that date back about 13,000 years.

Prior to the first forest fire in April, which forced the evacuation of the monument and hundreds of homes outside Flagstaff, there was no set plan for how to quickly remove the artifacts, as forest fires were not seen as an immediate threat to Vupatki.

Arizona fires are sweeping away land rich in ancient sites and artifacts

In this photo, provided by Darwin Descheney, from left to right, Chris Shaw, Thea Kaplan, Gwen Galenstein and Alexandra Covert carry boxes of artifacts that were evacuated from the National Monument Storage Monument at the Northern Arizona Museum in Flagstaff, Arizona. 14, 2022. The monument and artifacts were evacuated twice in the spring of 2022 due to forest fires. Credit: Darwin Desheni / Museum of Northern Arizona via AP

“Now, with climate change, conditions have changed, so a new plan,” said monument curator Gwen Galenstein.

Galenstein assembled nested boxes with cavities for larger items and foam bags for arrowheads and other smaller artifacts. She had photos for each item so everyone who was loaded with the packaging knew exactly where to put them, she said.

Galenstein devised a training plan on how to pack pottery, bone tools, sandals, textiles woven from cotton grown in the area, and more before another big fire broke out on June 12 and the monument closed again. No one expected to implement the plan so soon.

So far, fires have escaped the facility. Several boxes of items that go back to what archaeologists say are different local cultures have been taken to the Northern Arizona Museum for storage.

Some Hopi clans consider those who lived in Wupatki to be their ancestors. Navajo families later settled in the area, but slowly left, either voluntarily or under pressure from the National Park Service, which sought to abolish private land use after it became a monument in 1924.

Arizona fires are sweeping away land rich in ancient sites and artifacts

This 2021 photo, provided by the U.S. Forest Service, shows Michael Terlep, left, and Jason Nez at the Honanki Heritage Site near Sedona, Arizona. Archaeologists have assessed the risk of forest fires and potential impacts if they reach the site. Credit: US Forest Service via AP

The monument has about 2,600 archeological sites covering an area of ​​54 square miles (141 square kilometers), representing the convergence of the cultures of the Colorado Plateau in the Four Corners, where New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and Utah meet. The region includes the Grand Canyon, the Painted Desert, the Hopi Masses, the volcanic ash fields, the largest neighboring Ponderosa pine forest in the United States, and the peaks of San Francisco, a mountain sacred to 13 Native American tribes.

“This gives you an idea of ​​the density of cultural history here and continues beyond the boundaries of the national monument national forest“Said Lauren Carter, the monument’s lead interpreter.

The Coconino National Forest at the southern end of the plateau has explored only 20% of its 2,900 square miles (7,510 square kilometers) and registered 11,000 archeological sites, Stevens said. Forest restoration activities, which include mechanical thinning and prescribed burns, give archaeologists the opportunity to map objects and items. More discoveries are expected due to current forest fires, especially in more remote areas, Stevens said.

IN dry climate helped preserve many of the artifacts and sites. But it is also the type of environment that is prone to forest fires, especially with a mixture of fierce winds and heat that were all too common in the western United States this spring, as megadouches associated with climate change bake the region.

Stevens recalls working in a 2006 wildfire in the White Mountains of eastern Arizona, and the prison team came across a large kiwi, a round stone structure built into the ground and used for ceremonies. “It was something that was really remarkable,” she said. “Where we have fires lately, we have a lot of research and a lot of knowledge, but we are always ready for this new discovery.”

Arizona fires are sweeping away land rich in ancient sites and artifacts

This photo shows the remains of a high-rise stone home at the Vupatki National Monument outside Flagstaff, Arizona, in February. 17, 2014. The monument was evacuated twice in the spring of 2022 due to forest fires. Credit: AP Photo / Felicia Fonseca

Nez also made rare finds, including two points of Clovis and countryside on a mountain slope that he did not expect to see.

“There will be pieces of pottery, there will be points for shells,” he told fire crews and managers. “In local cultures, these things are there, and we respect them by leaving them alone.”


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