June 30, 2004

STASIS

Rancher sells archaelogical site to government (AP, 6/30/04)

For more than 50 years, rancher Waldo Wilcox kept most outsiders off his land and the secret under wraps: a string of ancient settlements thousands of years old in near perfect condition.

Hidden deep inside eastern Utah's nearly inaccessible Book Cliffs region, 130 miles southeast of Salt Lake City, the prehistoric villages run for 12 miles along Range Creek, where Wilcox guarded hundreds of rock art panels, cliffside granaries, pit houses and rock shelters, some exposing mummified remains of long-ago inhabitants.

The sites were occupied for at least 3,000 years until they were abandoned more than 1,000 years ago, when the Fremont people mysteriously vanished. The Fremont, a collection of hunter-gatherers and farmers, preceded more modern American Indian tribes on the Colorado Plateau.

This sounds like a fascinating site, and I hope I get to visit it some day. It is also an important corrective for both the left and the right to remember that human beings, if they can, are perfectly content to spend 3000 unchanging years in the same place doing the same things the same way.

Posted by David Cohen at June 30, 2004 11:04 PM
Comments

It also shows that private owners are often the best stewards of the land.

Posted by: Fred Jacobsen (San Fran) at July 1, 2004 12:03 AM

"... human beings, if they can, are perfectly content to spend 3000 unchanging years in the same place doing the same things the same way."

And then they're equally content to write up their ruminations on changeless ways of life on the World Wide Web using inexpensive personal computers connected to a global telecommunications network.

Posted by: Erich Schwarz at July 1, 2004 3:12 AM

"[I]f they can," Erich, "if they can."

People fear change and many prefer it to risking an uncertain future, even if their present is miserable -- sometimes, especially if their miserable present has trained them not to expect much from life. Look at how many Jews, heck, how many Europeans, stayed in Europe when the US was open to anyone who could get themselves here. One reason for American exceptionalism is that we are the descendents of those who dared.

Even here, the President is trying to drag the country, kicking and screaming, into the future, while the Democrats, the reactionary party, are having some success with their platform, "nothing should ever change."

Posted by: David Cohen at July 1, 2004 7:28 AM

I'm not an expert on such subjects, but I don't find their disappearance mysterious at all. 1000 AD is about when the Navjo and Apaches (or their ancestors) came into the Southwest. They preyed on the farmers there and might eventually have exterminated them had not the Spanish come along.

I learned this from Colin McVedy's Penguin Atlas of North American History. Here's part of what he says: "The Paiute of southern Utah suffered so badly from Apache harrassment that they gave up trying to keep their farms going and drifted back into food gathering." Others clustered together in larger settlements for protection.

So the farmers there would probably have been willing to continue another 3000 years -- but their enemies wouldn't let them.

Posted by: Jim Miller at July 1, 2004 7:53 AM

David:

Sounds to me like you are falling prey to a selection error. What about the ones who didn't stay?

An archeaologist 3000 years in the future could make the same conclusion about Europe, all the while neglecting how the US came to be populated by millions who chose to come here.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at July 1, 2004 11:46 AM

"... human beings, if they can, are perfectly content to spend 3000 unchanging years in the same place doing the same things the same way."

And what is the point of this?

Some cultures (like the Fremont and the old Egyptians) are static. Others (like ours) are dynamic and seek out change.

Posted by: Ken at July 1, 2004 12:31 PM

Why sell it to the government so they
can bury it like Kennewick Man?

The government has about as much integrity
dealing with Native American anthropology
as Franz Boaz.

Posted by: J.H. at July 1, 2004 2:13 PM

Jeff: Maybe, but what's important in this is not the make-up of the individual, but the behavior of the group.

Ken: No culture changes until forced to. Hence, the Iraqi war.

Posted by: David Cohen at July 1, 2004 2:24 PM

See Reid Bryson, 'Climates of Hunger' for why they disappeared.

It got real dry.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at July 1, 2004 4:25 PM

If only they'd had Kyoto to save them.

Posted by: David Cohen at July 1, 2004 6:19 PM

David:

Do you mean American culture hasn't changed since, say, 1945?

That seems counterintuitive to me. What's more, other than human nature allowed to follow its own nose, I can't think of any particular "force" behind the change.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at July 1, 2004 10:55 PM

American culture is constantly changing. We are forced to change by the one issue that has driven our culture and our politics since before the United States existed. The change has only accelerated since 1945. Slavery will ride us till we drop.

Posted by: David Cohen at July 1, 2004 11:15 PM
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