Archaeology Organizations Ask Interior Secretary to Support Bears Ears

Scientific resources, cultural heritage and economic development at stake

Tucson, Ariz. (March 6, 2017) – On the heels of Ryan Zinke’s confirmation as Secretary of the Interior, seven groups whose missions address the archaeology of Utah, Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico are urging the new Secretary to support the recently designated Bears Ears National Monument.

In a letter to Zinke (opens as a PDF), the groups invite the Secretary to Utah and urge Zinke to demonstrate respect for the sovereignty of the Native American Tribes who proposed the Bears Ears National Monument, and for the shared scientific, cultural and outdoor heritage of the American people who cherish our public lands. It also notes the “unprecedented effort” that went into defining and ultimately designating the Monument, as well as its potential for long-term economic benefits to southeastern Utah.

In an Interior Department press release announcing the appointment, Zinke himself stated, “…our sovereign Indian Nations and territories must have the respect and freedom they deserve.”

“There are more than 12,000 years of human history represented on this remarkable landscape,” said Jerry Spangler, director of the Colorado Plateau Archaeological Alliance based in Ogden, Utah. In 2009, Spangler compiled an inventory of the known archaeology of Greater Cedar Mesa, an area now in the heart of Bears Ears National Monument. That study was funded by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the Utah Division of State History.

“Within that small area alone, archaeologists have documented 2,500 sites, and that’s less than three percent of what we estimate is out there, which is at least 100,000 sites, mostly undiscovered,” Spangler continued. “In the larger Bears Ears landscape, that total could easily be double that number.”

Signatories to the letter to Zinke include Archaeology Southwest, Amerind Foundation and Museum of Northern Arizona in Arizona; SRI Foundation in New Mexico; Crow Canyon Archaeological Center in Colorado; and Colorado Plateau Archaeological Alliance and Friends of Cedar Mesa in Utah.

Thanks to visionaries like President Teddy Roosevelt, Americans have inherited the greatest estate of protected public lands in the world. Roosevelt also signed the Antiquities Act, a law that has been used by presidents of both parties to designate national monuments. As Interior Secretary, Zinke is tasked with being the chief steward of the nation’s national parks, monuments, conservation lands, and other protected public lands, which provide clean water, protect wildlife habitat and drive a $646 billion outdoor recreation economy.

“What we already know about the archaeology within Bears Ears National Monument is of tremendous value, but it’s a mere a fraction of what is yet to be discovered. For this reason, we invite Secretary Zinke to come to Bears Ears,” said Bill Doelle, president and CEO of Archaeology Southwest. “Through careful stewardship and low impact investigations, we’ll be able to convey the richness of the human stories embedded in this landscape to generations of Americans.”

Cedar Mesa Archaeology

Pueblo III site (A.D. 1150-1290) in the Bears Ears region. Image: R. E. Burrillo.

About Archaeology Southwest

Archaeology Southwest is a private 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization based in Tucson, Arizona, that explores and protects the places of our past across the American Southwest and Mexican Northwest. For three decades, Archaeology Southwest has fostered meaningful connections to the past and respectfully safeguarded its irreplaceable resources. Learn more at

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