Archaeology Magazine Archive

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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Fiery Finds Volume 55 Number 5, September/October 2002
by Kathryn Leonard

As firefighters relax after battling the largest wildfire in Arizona state history, archaeologists are beginning to survey sites impacted by the fire.

The Rodeo-Chediski blaze raged over 470,000 acres of eastern Arizona, home to more than 1,300 documented archaeological sites. Sites within the fire's perimeter range from isolated pictographs to multiroom pueblo dwellings. The largest documented pueblo in the area, Bailey Ruin, is a "chief concern" for Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest archaeologist Linda Martin. Surveys are also being conducted in Colorado to assess the impact of that state's largest wildfire, contained in July after smoldering for close to a month.

The greatest threat to sites in wildfire zones occurs when rain washes away surface artifacts and topples standing walls in denuded areas. "The threat from flooding...essentially dwarfs the threat from fire," White Mountain Apache tribal archaeologist John Welch told the Associated Press. Ironically, the absence of groundcover resulting from the Rodeo-Chediski fire led to Welch's discovery of 12 new sites on Arizona's White Mountain Reservation.

In 1996, the Chapin 5 wildfire scorched 5,000 acres in Southern Colorado's Mesa Verde National Park. An archaeological survey subsequently revealed the presence of an additional 400 sites within the perimeter of the park. Will Morris, a public affairs officer at the park, called the discoveries "a silver lining" in a "really dark cloud."

© 2002 by the Archaeological Institute of America