Editorial: Drilling around Chaco Culture NHP puts as-yet unplumbed heritage at risk
Santa Fe, N.M. — In the remote high desert of northwestern New Mexico lie the threatened ruins of Chaco Canyon, arguably the most significant cultural site on public land in the United States. The canyon and the surrounding region contain the remnants of great houses, kivas, ancient roads and sacred places built a millennium ago by an indigenous people who became proficient in architecture, agriculture, astronomy and the arts. Everything we know about them comes from these ruins and the artifacts they left behind, but it appears now that much of it could be at risk from the Trump administration’s unseemly haste in allowing oil and gas drilling nearby.
In the early years of the 20th century, when archaeologists and others became alarmed by the plunder and damage to some of these accessible and fragile sites, Chaco Canyon was the chief catalyst for Congress to protect such places on federal land by authorizing the president to declare them national monuments. President Theodore Roosevelt accepted that authority by signing the Antiquities Act in 1906, and the next year he invoked it to declare Chaco one of the first national monuments deserving the protection of the United States government; it is now owned and operated by the National Park Service.