The craftsmanship was breathtakingly exquisite - the perfectly worked arrowhead of snow-white stone was so tiny it would fit comfortably on a penny.

"Beautiful, eh?" said Marvin Evans.It was the second such point Evans had found. Nearby were grinding stones, two stone knife blades and handfuls of broken pottery and stone flakes - all artifacts testifying to an ancient village in Nine Mile Canyon (near Price).

Perched atop a pinnacle hundreds of feet above the valley floor, the stone-walled village - perhaps occupied by Fremont peoples more than 700 years ago - had remained undisturbed for centuries.

Evans, from Wellington in Carbon County, wasn't the only one experiencing the thrill of discovery. On the other side of the canyon, others had uncovered a cache ofremarkably preserved prehistoric wooden shovels. Others were salvaging remains of ancient corncobs or collecting pieces of pottery long shattered.

"Discovering your first pictograph or making your first precarious climb to a prehistoric granary gives you a healthy dose of wonder and discovery - the same feelings John Wesley Powell must have felt the first time he explored these canyons," said Kirsten Christensen, Price.

Christensen and Evans are two of scores of volunteers poking through the thousands of rocky nooks and crannies, documenting hundreds of prehistoric rock paintings, stone dwellings and adobe granaries tucked high on cliff faces.

It's time-consuming, physically exhausting work - all of it donated by volunteers committed to preserving one of Utah's richest cultural heritages: Nine Mile Canyon.

Over the past two years, volunteer crews have "surveyed" about six miles of the canyon (Nine Mile Canyon is actually about 50 miles long), have documented almost 200 archaeological sites and recovered a variety of extremely rare and priceless artifacts that will help scientists today and in the future piece together a clearer picture of prehistoric life in the canyon.

It's a cooperative project involving professional archaeologists working hand-in-hand with dozens of volunteers from the local community (Cypress Plateau Mining, a local coal company, donated use of a helicopter) to record, map, sketch and otherwise document the hundreds of historic and prehistoric sites.

"For the most part, they are local people who realize they can do something to preserve these resources," said Pam Miller, archaeologist for the Prehistoric Museum at the College of Eastern Utah. "They come here, they see there is something indescribably wonderful about Nine Mile Canyon and that what they do to preserve it will have merit for generations to come."

They come to Nine Mile Canyon for the love of archaeology or the thrill of discovery or to learn of another culture from a far-away time.

"Standing next to a pit house overlooking a rocky cliff, it's difficult to imagine raising a family in such a dangerous setting. It brings to light the pettiness of our narcissistic world," Christensen said. "Somehow, it brings everything into a better focus."

The survey project - which will conclude its second season Oct. 1-2 - has had its skeptics, many of them archaeologists who doubted the wisdom of allowing amateurs to participate. But even some of the project's harshest critics are believers now, said Blaine Miller, a Bureau of Land Management archaeologist assisting with the project.

"They see it can work, you can have professionals and amateurs working side by side," he said.

While scientists have been visiting the canyon for more than 50 years, the length and breadth of the canyon - and all its side canyons - are so extensive no one ever dreamed it possible to systematically record all of the sites from its head (near Price) to its mouth at the Green River.

"It was too big a project," said Blaine Miller. "Everyone knows Nine Mile Canyon is famous for its rock art. But no one - archaeologists included - really knew how much of it or where it all was. Or what kind of other things were in the canyon."

In fact, there continues to be a widespread belief that Nine Mile Canyon has few prehistoric villages or structures. "That was because no one had really looked for them," said Blaine Miller. "All they saw was the spectacular rock art."

But when project volunteers began systematically canvassing the canyon, they found scores of structures, even villages, that previously were unknown. "There is a real awakening going on," said Pam Miller.

Added husband Blaine, "What we are seeing is a project so big it never will get done without the help of amateurs. And even with their help it may take years to complete."

It's Miller's opinion that professional archaeologists have been cutting their own throats by not involving amateurs and volunteers. An archaeological survey is the perfect outlet, he said.

"You can tackle large projects without a lot of additional costs (amateurs volunteer their time) and it creates a positive atmosphere for amateurs and professionals alike."

And with literally hundreds of canyons in Utah that never have been surveyed for their archaeological resources, the cooperative Nine Mile Canyon project may well serve as a model for future large-scale archaeological projects, particularly as research funds become more and more limited, he said.

Pam Miller notes the project was originated by amateurs who wanted to do serious archaeology under the supervision of professional archaeologists.

In this case, the project is being supervised by professional archaeologists Ray and Deanne Matheny of Brigham Young University, with technical assistance from the Millers. Other professional archaeologists also have assisted.

"And there has been no shortage of enthusiasm from the volunteers. Taxpayers are getting a heck of a deal," said Pam Miller

The project - the first of such a large scale in Utah - began more than two years ago when Bob Powell, then-president of the Utah Amateur Archaeological Society and a Price resident, worked with Carbon County and state officials to obtain a federal grant for "historic preservation."