Ancient Native American Mound To Be Destroyed To Build Sam’s Club

It’s been a tough year for ancient monuments, what with subway workers in China accidentally demolishing 3000-year-old tombs, a limestone quarry destroying part of the Nazca Lines, and pyramids in Peru and Belize being bulldozed by “developers.”

Now Alabama is getting in on the game. The city of Oxford, Alabama, has approved the destruction of a mound of stones and the hill on which it stands in order to use the dirt as fill for a Sam’s Club site. City mayor Leon Smith says it’s a natural formation and was only used to send smoke signals, but the State Historical Commission disagrees and says it’s about 1,500 years old and eligible for the National Register of Historic Places.

Artificial earthen and stone mounds were common features of prehistoric Native American civilizations and are found in many parts of North America. Some were used for burials while others appear to have been ritual sites. There have already been protests against the destruction.

For more on this issue, check out this article by The Institute for Southern Studies, which includes many links to local newspaper articles and official reports.

Part Of Wounded Knee Massacre Site To Be Sold

Part of the Wounded Knee massacre site, the scene of one of the worst attacks on Native Americans in U.S. history, may soon be sold to private interests, the BBC reports.

In 1890 in South Dakota, there were widespread fears among the white population that the Sioux were going to stage an uprising. A drought and insufficient government rations had led many Native Americans to the brink of starvation, and some had turned to the Ghost Dance religion, a revivalist faith that many whites interpreted as warlike.

The U.S. military tried to relocate the local Sioux to the Pine Ridge Reservation but one band refused to go and fled in the middle of the night. They were eventually tracked down to Wounded Knee Creek. On December 29, the soldiers tried to disarm them. One Sioux refused to give up his gun. A soldier tried to grab it and it went off. The nervous whites then fired into the crowd.

In the ensuing battle 25 U.S. soldiers were killed, but the death toll among the Sioux was far higher. It’s unclear exactly how many were killed but estimates vary from 250 to 300, with at least half of them being women and children who hadn’t resisted. One mass grave, shown here, was used to bury 146 bodies.

Ever since that bloody day, the massacre site has been of deep significance to the Sioux and the Native American community in general. Little has been built there, however, and now a 40-acre plot that’s owned by someone outside the tribe is up for sale.

Some Sioux are calling on President Obama to make the land, already a National Historic Landmark, a National Monument, a status that would give it more federal funding and protection.

The landowner says that he has tried to sell the land to the tribe but was rebuffed. He’s giving the tribe until May 1 to come up with the $3.9 million price tag before he puts it on the open market. Sioux leaders say the Pine Ridge Reservation, one of the poorest regions in the country, has little money to spare and that the asking price is far above market price.

[Photo courtesy Library of Congress]

VIDEO: Prehistoric Art Of Panther Cave Reproduced In 3D

Panther Cave in Seminole Canyon, Texas, has some of the country’s best-preserved prehistoric cave paintings. A colorful frieze of leaping panthers, feathered shamans and strange abstract shapes have puzzled researchers for decades. It appears to be telling a story of some sort, but what does that story say?

Now this new 3D video allows you to study it for yourself. Color enhancement brings out details hard to see with the naked eye. It also brings the cave (really a rock shelter) to the general public. Panther Cave is only visible from the opposite bank of the river or by a specially scheduled boat trip with a park ranger.

The paintings date to the Archaic period, a vague label stretching from 7,000 B.C. to 600 A.D. Judging from the condition of the paintings and the relatively shallow depth of the rock shelter, this former archaeologist thinks they must date to the last few centuries of that period. Take that with a grain of salt; my specialty was the Anglo-Saxon migration period.

The site is managed by Seminole Canyon State Park & Historic Site and Amistad National Recreation Area. Sadly, Past Horizons reports that the site is now endangered by flooding related to the construction of Amistad Reservoir. As prehistoric art across the nation falls prey to “development,” vandalism and time, these detailed videos become important records of our past.

For a look at some cave paintings from the opposite side of the globe, check out my post on the painted caves of Laas Geel in Somaliland.

Why I Visited Mesa Verde National Park Instead Of The Warren Jeffs Polygamy Compound

On my last morning in southwest Colorado, I went to the public library in Mancos to decide if I should spend my last hours in the state trying to track down polygamists at the Warren Jeffs compound just outside town or if should visit Mesa Verde National Park.

“The Jeffs people really keep to themselves,” said a friendly, bearded librarian named Lee.

“And I don’t imagine they’re very keen on giving interviews.”
Since I’d already met some much nicer polygamists anyway, it was settled; I was off to Mesa Verde, a UNESCO World Heritage site known for its ancient cliff dwellings that were once inhabited by Ancestral Puebloans, sometimes called the Anasazi, who lived in the region from around 600 A.D. until about 1300 A.D.

On a brisk Wednesday morning in early January, I had Mesa Verde (“green table” in Spanish) almost all to myself. I turned up at the visitor’s center just after 10 a.m. and the park ranger said I was the first visitor the day. If you enter the park from Route 160, near Cortez, about a half-hour from Durango, it’s about a half-hour drive (up to 45 minutes if you’re a cautious driver) to see the cliff dwellings and pithouses.

I took the six-mile Mesa Top Loop and after stopping at a few pithouses, which were used as dwellings from about 550-750 B.C, I felt like I should have pursued the polygamists. The pithouses are primitive homes that are essentially shallow pits dug into the ground and you need a fairly active imagination to appreciate them.

But after catching a glimpse of the Balcony House, the Cliff Palace, the Square Tower House and some of the other cliff dwellings, I was glad that I made the effort to visit the park. There is something undeniably powerful about seeing these ancient dwellings, perched precariously in a stunning alpine setting that inspires you to want to learn more about Native American history.

Historians believe that the population of this area may have reached several thousand people in the 12th and 13th Centuries, and most of the cliff dwellings you can see today were built between 1190-1270. The largest is the Cliff Palace, which has about 150 rooms. The fact that the Ancestral Puebloans went through all the trouble of constructing these elaborate dwellings only to abandon the area only 100 years or so later, tells us that they were likely compelled to leave because of severe drought or the reality that they’d depleted all of Mesa Verde’s natural resources.

It’s difficult to prioritize one’s time in the Four Corners region on a short trip, as you have three national parks within three hours of Durango – Mesa Verde, Canyonlands and Arches, plus Monument Valley, the Four Corners monument, not to mention all the ski resorts and other sites in the area. I’m not a huge fan of archaeological sites, but I wouldn’t leave this region without spending at least a couple hours visiting Mesa Verde because it will remind you that although we aren’t really the “young country” we’re made it out be.

[Photo/video credits: Dave Seminara]

Braving The Bitter Cold To Photograph Monument Valley At Sunrise

Waking up before dawn isn’t usually high on my list of holiday priorities, especially on a dark, frigid winter day. But on a recent trip to Utah’s Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, the iconic place that more or less defines how we imagine the American West, I was up and out of my hotel by 6:30 a.m. in order to photograph the valley’s stunning sandstone buttes and mesas in the early morning light.
In the dawn’s early light, the massive rock formations looked almost like a city skyline off in the distance. It was bitterly cold – 12 degrees according to my rental car’s temperature gauge but a fierce wind made it feel like it was well below zero (listen to the wind in the video below!). The front desk agent at Goulding’s Lodge mentioned that the sunrise would be around 7:30, but as I drove toward the Monument Valley visitor’s center it looked like the sun might rise earlier, so in a panic, I put the pedal to the metal and flew through the desolate streets.

When I pulled into the mostly empty parking lot and saw a handful of frigid looking, camera-clutching tourists standing around in the darkness, my Indy-500 like burst of speed seemed more than a trifle unnecessary. At 6:40, there was enough light to get a few shots of the Sentinel mesa and the two buttes that every tourist loves to photograph – the Mittens, east and west.

There was a cluster of about a dozen Japanese tourists, but within five minutes of my arrival, the Japanese womenfolk all retreated to their cars at a trot due to the unseasonably frigid weather. (January can be cold in Monument Valley, but it was colder than usual.) But the men were either too macho or too intent on getting the perfect shot, so they stayed, despite the fact that most of them weren’t dressed for winter.

I was bundled up with several layers, a warm hat, a scarf and a heavy ski jacket, but I’d made the mistake of bringing a light pair of gloves and my fingers were numb within 15 minutes.

“Are you cold?” asked a Russian tourist, who later introduced himself as Andrey.

“Freezing,” I admitted, hopping up and down to maintain warmth as we waited for the sun to rise.

“We’re from Moscow, so we don’t think it’s that cold,” he said, as his girlfriend, Elena, who looked like she was about to sprout icicles off of her nose, rolled her eyes.

“It eees cold!” Elena said, correcting him.

Andrey put a further damper on my mood by mentioning that we were unlikely to get great photos due to the forecast, which called for overcast skies.

“So what are we doing here?” Elena asked.

I gravitated toward the Japanese group and struck up a conversation with a twenty-something man named Yamato, who was wearing just a hoodie, with no hat or gloves and flip flops with no socks! (see photo)

“I’ve been living in L.A. for 10 years,” he explained. “I wear flip flops every day. I didn’t know it would be so cold here.”

All too slowly the sky broke out into a mélange of pink, baby blue and orange and we snapped away for a good hour, pacing and hopping up and down all the while to keep the blood flowing. I lost all feeling in my fingers and toes and couldn’t imagine how cold the barefoot and bare fingered Yamato was. But he never complained; he just kept shooting.

I don’t think any of us got the iconic, magazine cover image we were hoping for. In order to get the perfect shot, you need a bit of luck, not to mention knowledge and the right equipment, but it was still an unforgettable experience. Anyone who has seen the sun rise over Monument Valley will understand why we call it America the Beautiful. But I couldn’t stop thinking about Yamato and his samurai mentality. He was going to capture the moment even if it killed him.

“I might never be back here,” he explained. “I have to get the shot.”

[Photo/video credits: Dave Seminara]