Written by Dr. Rebecca Schwendler
Do your travel plans include exploring archaeological ruins in the West? If so, please watch this informative video.
Produced by the San Juan Mountains Association and the Bureau of Land Management Anasazi Heritage Center with a grant from the Colorado Historical Society, the video features five Native Americans of different generations and affiliations (the pueblos of Santa Clara and Acoma in New Mexico and the Hopi Tribe in Arizona) talking about their connections to prehistoric ruins and ways that we can visit them appropriately.
As a professional archaeologist and the public lands advocate for the National Trust for Historic Preservation, I want to spread the word that we all have a part in preserving our country’s amazing archaeological, historical, and cultural places – whether they were created by our ancestors or someone else’s. While I find that most visitors are thoughtful and responsible, even well-meaning people can cause damage if they don’t know how to visit with respect.
So, how does one visit with respect? Here are some tips:
1 – Notice where artifacts and rock art are located in relation to one another and the surrounding landscape. Look for spatial patterns in materials, object types, and colors, but leave the artifacts in place and the rock art untouched. Artifacts and art are like pieces of a puzzle; if you move, remove, or damage them, you create a false and incomplete picture of the past and disrespect the people who made them.
2 – Observe structures from different angles and appreciate their materials and forms, but never climb on walls or into structures or pits unless a sign invites you to do so. Even if you don’t appear to be harming the structures, the cumulative effect of many people doing the same thing will. You don’t want to be that person who helps destroy things so that others can’t enjoy them, do you?
3 – Stick to designated trails to get the best views without damaging natural and cultural resources. Pretend you’re visiting your grandmother’s house - steer clear of those flower beds and don’t throw rocks in her pool!
At the end of the day, visiting archaeological sites (and any historic place for that matter) with respect means imagining the people who created the place, going slow, being observant, appreciating the location, and leaving things exactly as you find them. Always treat these special places as you would want others to treat your belongings and favorite hang outs.
We all need to run wild sometimes, just not in our precious and often fragile archaeological sites.
Rebecca Schwendler, Ph.D., is the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s public lands advocate. She is stationed in the Mountains/Plains Regional Office.