Utah's ancient history is focus of donation

Published: Tuesday, July 24 2007 12:01 a.m. MDT

The "Owl Panel," as seen in the archaeology book "Treasures of the Tavaputs," is one of the most iconic sites in Nine Mile Canyon.

Steve Howe

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Think Utah history. Do Mormon pioneers, handcarts and "This is the right place" spring to mind?

Archaeologists think more about the ancients, and the remote Utah treasures that offer a window to their lives.

But with those thoughts come worry, too, that the window to the past is cracking under the acts of vandals and uneducated visitors.

So last week, the nonprofit Colorado Plateau Archaeological Alliance unveiled a book it's donating to every Utah fourth- through seventh-grade teacher. The group hopes teachers will pass a trove of ancient history to their students — with a lesson in stewardship.

"The kids are the ones who are going to protect this stuff for the future," said Jerry D. Spangler, CPAA executive director and co-author of "Treasures of the Tavaputs," which focuses on the archaeology of Desolation Canyon, Nine Mile Canyon and Range Creek near Price. "Our generation hasn't done a very good job of it."

CPAA works with government, industry and conservation groups to develop scientifically sound strategies to protect historical sites. The book, also written by Donna K. Spangler and created with grants from Questar Pipeline and the Utah Division of State History, is the group's first public outreach effort.

The Spanglers are former Deseret Morning News reporters.

Some 5,000 copies were donated to Utah history teachers to share the area's history, from rock art to ancient dwellings, and tips on how to tread lightly when visiting them.

Utah history is taught in fourth and seventh grades, but the ancients are cast more in a supporting role. In fourth grade, the state core curriculum touches on ancient and modern-day American Indian influence, the first settlers, geography, explorers and other factors that shaped the Utah of today. In seventh grade, it reviews Utah's early history but emphasizes Utah from statehood on.

"A lot of our citizens don't know much of what went on before the pioneers got here, but most of the human history in this state took place before the pioneers got here," said State Archaeologist Kevin Jones, who works in the antiquities section of the Utah Division of State History.

Teachers some 15 years ago started receiving training, including visits to an archaeological site and a curriculum guide, under "Project Archaeology," to help pass that message on to students. That program, also called "Intrigue of the Past," is now national, Jones said.

The new book can be another supplement for teachers, and help rural Utah students celebrate the richness of their area, said Robert Austin, social studies specialist at the State Office of Education.

"For me, it's about helping students see that we have a history that spans centuries — thousands of years in this state — and some of the issues that native people faced in terms of natural resources and water are lessons we can learn from as we face the same kind of issues today," Austin said. "That's the nice thing about social studies ... we can make some educated decisions about the future."

Books also are sold at various Utah museums and online at www.cparch.org.


E-mail: jtcook@desnews.com

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