During preliminary construction on a proposed highway in Durango, Colorado, workers uncovered remarkably well-preserved archaeological ruins, most likely dating back to the Ancestral Puebloan period (commonly referred to as the Anasazi).
The Durango Herald reported that the excavation uncovered structures, human bones, and artifacts, including some that could be traced to the Baja region. It is well-known that the Ancestral Puebloans had extensive trade routes all across the southwest and Mexico, bringing artifacts as diverse as seashells and parrot feathers to the otherwise desert country.
The highway project, the U.S. Highway 550 Interchange, is moving forward, and archaeologists are faced with excavating quickly to document and extract anything that they can before the construction gets underway. This brings up a common problem faced in the southwest (and other regions around the United States and the world) of what is to be done when modern work uncovers ancient treasures. In a place like the American southwest, where ruins are so common, it is unfeasible to halt every construction project to accommodate ancient sites. But, at the same time, many scientists and activists urge governments to better protect cultural heritage sites.
In a related case nearby, when the Glen Canyon Dam was built across the Colorado River, forming Lake Powell and creating electricity to power most of Arizona, huge swaths of Ancestral Puebloan sites were lost beneath the rising waters. Archaeologists and volunteers went on a frantic search to document what would inevitably be lost.
In the case of Durango, archaeologists only have a few months before progress must be begun on the $100 million highway project.
To learn more about this discovery and the challenges it poses for construction companies, visit the San Francisco Chronicle.