Archeological digs helpful, costly

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    By AMY ISOM

    Bone lovers everywhere are employed in the profession that unearths ancient history, but the lack of discovery in archeology turns the issue into one of cost versus benefits.

    The U.S. Army recently awarded the Utah Geological Survey $200,000 to fund its archaeological studies. This lump of money funds projects that may or may not end in the discovery of valuable information from years gone by. If studies are not done before the land is developed, though, consequences loom disastrous.

    “The rationale behind all this is that archaeological sites are non-renewable,” said Donald Forsyth, BYU professor of anthropology. “If you begin a development project and destroy the archaeology, it’s not like trees; it won’t grow back. The information is gone,” he said.

    Forsyth said the way to determine the cost depends on how one sees it. If the army found little value in knowing how a community developed, it would make little sense to fund an archeological dig.

    However, he added that there’s always a chance that something could be found, and the money to fund it is well worth the effort.

    “Many projects have discovered amazing and valuable sites that may have been destroyed otherwise,” Forsyth said. “And actually, the money spent on archaeology compared to other environmental impact projects is a pittance. It may sound like a lot of money, but it isn’t,” he said.

    The Utah Geological Survey is in various stages of the completement of three different projects, said David Madsen, senior scientist with the Environmental Sciences Program of the UGS. The project is backed by funding from the Army.

    The amount of funding depends on the projects UGS is involved with. Since there are three, funding is merely adequate, Madsen said.

    UGS is in the process of completing the analysis of a cave that contains 18 stratified layers of bone and plant remains. They’ve identified changes throughout 800 years of life, Madsen said.

    Forsyth said cave projects are very valuable because of their dry, protected climate. They keep many archaeological remains intact, he said.

    A second project involves the assessment of the environmental changes associated with a once flowing river. The river used to connect the Sevier Lake, by Delta, to the Great Salt Lake.

    UGS’s third project underway is an archaeological survey project. The Army is obligated to protect potentially existing artifacts before land development can proceed.

    “Again, it’s a hit and miss,” Forsyth said. “Identifying archaeological sites is grunt work. You may find something important or you may not.”

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