Tuesday, February 21, 2012

BLM law enforcement patrol yields archaeological find

"An interesting rockpile" was a site where ancient people lived and farmed.
A law enforcement officer’s background in archaeology has paid off for the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and those concerned with recording and protecting cultural and historic sites.
BLM Ranger Grady Cook was on patrol in the Ironwood Forest National Monument in November. His partner was BLM National Chief Ranger Jason Caffey, who was in Arizona participating in a law enforcement surge against smuggling activities in the national monuments.
“We had seen a smuggling road and just followed it to see where it went, to see if there was anything out there worth looking at, anything stashed up,” Cook said. The patrol was uneventful, but on the way out, Cook saw an interesting rockpile.
Cook, who now is chief law enforcement ranger for the BLM’s Gila District Office, has a degree in anthropology and archaeology. He worked as an archaeologist during and for a while after college. He still works closely with the BLM archaeologist in Tucson.  
Because of that background, Cook knew that it was more than a rockpile. “I knew it was something historic, most likely prehistoric. I wandered around a little bit to see if it was just an isolated feature or something bigger and I saw several other features,” he said.
What Cook had discovered was a site where an ancient group of people likely lived year-round and farmed.
In keeping with federal law and policy of protecting cultural sites from looters, the BLM is not providing specific information on the site’s location. Federal laws, including the National Historic Preservation Act and the Archaeological Resource Protection Act, make it a crime to disturb or damage such sites. 
Cook advised Amy Sobiech, the Tucson Field Office archaeologist, of his find. She reviewed records and found that the site had not been previously recorded. In other words, this old site was new territory for archaeological study.
Sobiech and Cook took a closer look at the site in January. Then in early February, about 20 people – archaeologists, land managers, law enforcement officers and others – gathered to make a more detailed exploration of the site.
What they learned is that there is a lot more to learn. Sobiech said that the site’s boundary has not even been firmly established yet. That will be a priority for her. Then comes mapping and documenting what’s within the boundaries. BLM staff and law enforcement rangers will monitor the site regularly to make sure it remains undisturbed.
Michael Johnson, the archaeology program lead in the BLM Arizona State Office in Phoenix, said the site was probably used by successive groups of prehistoric Hohokam people over perhaps 200 years. “It may have been several small sites that were reoccupied over time. That’s what makes it so wonderful,” he said.
Sobiech and Johnson and others familiar with the culture and the history of southern Arizona are excited about the opportunities to learn from the site.
For Cook, the site offers another opportunity to educate his officers in protecting sites and artifacts – a key part of their jobs.
During the exploratory visit in early February, Cook trained several rangers that were in the area on temporary assignment from other states and other parts of Arizona. The rangers were working in the Ironwood Forest National Monument and the Sonoran Desert National Monument to combat smuggling and the associated damage to natural and cultural resources. Operation Reclaim Our National Monuments (ROAM) draws rangers from throughout the BLM for two-week surges during the peak season for smuggling operations. The increased workforce means more patrols and more opportunities for catching lawbreakers. It also means more security for cleanup and resource rehabilitation operations.   
On the day in early February, the law enforcement intent was to ensure safety for those exploring the newly found site. But it was also to educate the rangers.
Cook walked around the site and showed the rangers different artifacts that were evident to him: pottery sherds and chipped stones. “Almost unanimously, the comments from the other rangers were ‘how do you even know? … I wouldn’t know what that was’,” he said.
But after a bit of explanation and training, the rangers were finding objects on their own and pointing them out to Cook.
That’s a valuable experience for the rangers, Cook said.
“If you’re not used to seeing those things, if you haven’t been trained in it, then you don’t know what you’re looking at,” he said. “You can’t protect something you don’t know about.”
Caffey appreciated being part of the find.
“I don’t want anything out there damaged. I want everything to be as pristine as possible,” he said. “Finding this site in a location so exposed to damage by the impacts of illegal smuggling, yet still undamaged, confirmed that all the efforts and sacrifices by rangers really are beneficial to the public lands. Getting Ranger Cook’s firsthand interpretation of the site and glimpse into the past was a great added bonus.”
He added, there is a distinct difference in the loss of a single mesquite tree and the potential danger to a major archaeology site from greedy people, whether they are smugglers who care nothing about historic artifacts or looters who care nothing about preserving sites.
“It’s nice to have some firsthand evidence of exactly what you’re trying to protect,” he said.

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