Thursday, May 8, 2014

Jim, Bev and the Antiquities Act

Visitors to the lands of ancient cliff dwellers are to leave the area as is, and laws prohibit anyone from removing or disturbing artifacts.

But what do you do when you come across ancient pottery that's sitting on a garbage can?

We were walking the half-mile paved trail to the Escalante Pueblo at the Anasazi Heritage Center in Dolores, Colorado -- a museum about ancestral Puebloan people -- when Jim saw a large shard of pottery on top of one of the museum's bear-proof trash cans.  It was damp on one edge as if it had been recently pulled from the ground.  Thinking that it could fall and break, Jim put it on the ground near the trash can.

When we came back from the pueblo, it was still there.

So we gave the shard to a woman at the museum, who said she'd never had anything like that happen before in her 17 years as a volunteer. The volunteer gave the shard to Michael Williams, an Anasazi Heritage Center exhibit specialist, who approached me (Bev) while I was stamping our National Parks Passports and Jim was back in the car with Cooper.

I explained where Jim found it, and that if it had originally been on the ground we would not have picked it up.  Mr. Williams told me he was sure the shard was piece of 12th or 13th century coiled pottery. He also said what we did "was a hard call" and that we "probably did the right thing." His concern was that the Anasazi Heritage Center would not know the piece's  provenance: in other words, its origin or history of ownership.    

So what would have been the better thing?  Leave it on the trash can to get broken or pocketed? Maybe one of us could have guarded the trash can while the other person reported what we'd found to the museum -- but that seemed silly because the shard obviously had not been sitting on a trash can for nine centuries.

Anyway -- we think we did the right thing.  
Jim holding the pottery shard. At first we thought maybe the shard was a replica an interpretive ranger accidentally left on the trash can. Then we noticed the damp edge at the upper left and guessed that a visitor removed the shard from the pueblo, thought better of it and left it where someone would find it. But we don't know.
The Escalante Pueblo, where ancient native Americans lived during the 12the century.  We were walking to this pueblo when Jim found a pottery shard. The pueblo is named for  Silvestre V√©lez de Escalante, a Franciscan priest who explored the area in 1776.  Another of Escalante's namesakes is southern Utah's Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, which became a national monument in 1996.  

The Anasazi Heritage Center in Dolores, Colorado, is an archaeological museum  with over 3 million artifacts once used by regional native people. Many of the items were found and documented when the nearby Delores River was dammed to create the McPhee Reservoir. The reservoir is named for a town submerged by the reservoir.
Some of the pottery seen inside the Anasazi Heritage Center.


  1. You "probably did the right thing"? Guess maybe they thought you were the ones who dug it up and then had second thoughts? Crazy.
    We've been to the Heritage Center and thought it was very nice.

    1. Thanks for the supportive comment. I thought the man I talked with seemed irritated with me -- but in retrospect, I think it was the situation. After all, how do you provide documentation for something found on a garbage can? Been following your blog...we loved Fort Bragg and North Coast Brewery. Take care.

  2. That looks like a great place to visit.

    1. Thanks, Sara. That entire Four Corners area is pretty amazing ... and pretty darn big.