Early Exploration of the Southwest

Jan 17, 2012
While looking up a certain canyon in the Cedar Mesa area - following Nick's post with interest - I found the following statement "...canyon was not raped and pillaged by Richard Wetherill and other pot hunters in the late 1800's." I'm interested in this community's opinion of the early discoverers of native culture's in the Southwest. Gravediggers or amateur archaeologists? rape and pillage or exploration with good intention and poor execution.
I think a lot of the common practices back then are now considered bad. Current archaeology practices are nothing like what they used to be. I have read Richard Wetherill - Anasazi and believe that he had good intentions although some of the things he did maybe don't seem right when we look at them today. I guess what I'm saying is that we have to remember the time period and situations they lived in and what they had to work with.
I think there was, as with anything at any time, a spectrum of behaviour. Looters with nothing but pure profit for motivation were more the rule than the exception though, I believe.

As far as the Wetherills specifically, I think they were "the good guys" when, as just noted, their actions are taken in the context of their times. I've also read several books referencing the activities of the early "pot hunters" like the Wetherills, McCloyd, Graham etc., as well as the earliest "archaeologists" to dig the area like Moorehead.

For the most part, at least according to what I have read, the Wetherills were in large part doing what was considered to be "archaeology". Much of their digging and artifact removal was done within the framework of "expeditions" like the Hyde Exploring Expedition and the Whitmore Exploring Expedition. Explorations often mostly financed by "scientific interests". With notes and photos of the excavations done that actually set the standard of the day for how to conduct a dig. Not to mention, Richard Wetherill essentially pioneered the use of stratigraphy as used in modern archaeology to this day.

I think he did the best he could given the context of the times - with generally good intentions.

I don't think he was typical. I think the vast majority of artifacts removed in the early days were looting for fun and profit, plain, pure and simple.

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