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Watching out for Arizona's ancient treasures: volunteers are helping protect archeological sites.

POT HUNTERS, THIEVES, AND desecraters of Arizona's history should be wary. A growing legion of volunteers is keeping watch over the state's vast archeological treasure.

The 5-year-old Site Steward Program, modeled on one in Texas, was established by the Arizona Archeological Advisory Commission to protect the state's prehistoric sites. The program's premise is that the most effective protection comes from irregularly scheduled but frequent visits by trained volunteers. Stewards never confront a thief or vandal, just report suspicious activity. Offenders can face fines of up to $120,000.

Arizona is a good testing ground for this type of program. Archeologists tell us that, until about 800 years ago, as many as a million people--including Anasazi, Hohokam, and Mogollon--lived here, and that they were active builders. In fact, there are so many sites it will take a century or more to properly study them and preserve their artifacts. As program director Jack Bashaw puts it, "If you travel 15 miles in any direction, you will cross a significant site. And if you dig down 3 feet in the Salt River Basin, you'll find something the Hohokam built."

What led to the demise of these prehistoric people? Climate change, overpopulation, and overconsumption of resources such as wood are the leading theories. Sound familiar? Perhaps what we learn from studying their sites will have more than academic value.

Stewardship offers many rewards, such as learning about Arizona's geography and history. If you're interested in being trained to become a site steward, or in starting a similar program elsewhere, write or call the State Historic Preservation Office, 800 W. Washington St., Suite 415, Phoenix 85007; (602) 542-4009.
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Author:MacCaskey, Michael
Date:Jan 1, 1992
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