Skip to main content Skip to navigation
CAS News Arts and Sciences Headlines

Demystifying the Changes to Bears Ears National Monument

The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Less than a year ago, President Barack Obama established Bears Ears National Monument in an attempt to protect some 1.35 million acres of awe-inspiring red rock canyons in Utah. It holds an almost countless number of ancient dwellings and petroglyphs, in among unique geological formations. But yesterday, 85 percent of that land lost its National Monument protection, after President Donald Trump rescinded its protections and those of large portions of nearby Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

William Lipe

On one hand, this appears to expose around two million acres to commercial activities, ranging from oil and gas extraction to mining and logging. But it’s not all going to be razed tomorrow. Significant portions of that land and its bounty do still hold other forms of protection. The key, says Bill Lipe, an archaeologist at Washington State University, is that the monument designation guarantees a higher standard for new development projects.

“Traditional economic uses such as grazing, as well as hunting and fishing, will continue, and existing mineral extraction leases will be honored,” when land is designated, he says. “However, new leases will not be offered, and developments such as road and utility corridor construction will be evaluated more stringently in terms of their impact on the landscape—both cultural and environmental.” Now far less land will be subject to that level of scrutiny, which also could have an impact on the places that retain some kind of protection.

Another, more worrying, effect of the changes, Lipe says, is that while it may leave protection in place for individual cultural heritage sites, it ignores their context—the smaller important places spread across the landscape that show how ancient people used and moved through the land. This is a tragedy for archaeological study, which recognizes the historic value of the landscape as a whole. “The sites visitors are drawn to are typically parts of larger distributions of related sites that together represent dispersed communities and social networks,” Lipe says. In other words, the forest is more valuable than the trees alone.

“This kind of perspective is possible because the physical landscape of the Bears Ears Monument is relatively intact, because it has not seen extensive or large-scale modern economic development.” So far, that is.

Find out more

Atlas Obscura


Livestock drove ancient Old World inequality

Tim Kohler

Today, 2% of the world’s people own more than half its wealth. This rise of the superrich has economists, politicians, and citizens alike wondering how much inequality societies can—or should—accept. But economic inequality has deep roots. A study published this week in Nature concludes that its ancient hotbed was the Old World.

“Think about how people get rich in modern societies. They find clever ways to tie their current wealth into their future income,” Kohler says. “Because land and livestock could be passed to future generations, certain families got even richer over time.”

Find out more

Gears of Biz
Progress Daily
Archaeology News Network
Cosmos Magazine
WSU News
The Economist
Pacific Standard
USA Today
The Guardian

Researchers Look for Dawn of Human Information Sharing

Luke Premo
Luke Premo

Every day, information washes over the world like so much weather. From casual conversations, tweets, texts, emails, advertisements and news stories, humanity processes countless discrete pieces of socially transmitted information.

Anthropologists call this process cultural transmission, and there was a time when it did not exist, when humans or more likely their smaller brained ancestors did not pass on knowledge. Luke Premo, an associate professor of anthropology at Washington State University, would like to know when that was. Writing in the October issue of Current Anthropology, he and three colleagues challenge a widely accepted notion that cultural transmission goes back more than 2 million years.

Find out more

Laboratory Equipment

Prehistoric turkey DNA used to track ancient Pueblo migration

Tim Kohler

In the mid-to-late 1200s, some 30,000 ancestral pueblo farmers left their homes in southwestern Colorado’s Mesa Verde region and never returned.

Where these people went and why they left are two of American archeology’s longest-standing mysteries.

A new study co-led by archaeologists Tim Kohler, of Washington State University, and Brian Kemp, formerly at WSU, now at the University of Oklahoma, provides the first genetic evidence suggesting that many of Mesa Verde’s ancient farmers moved to the northern Rio Grande area in New Mexico, a region currently inhabited by the Tewa people.

Find out more

WSU News

African farmers’ kids conquer the marshmallow test

Barry Hewlett
Barry Hewlett

Children of Nso farmers in Cameroon know how to master the marshmallow test, which has tempted away the self-control of Western kids for decades. In a direct comparison on this delayed gratification task, Cameroonian youngsters leave middle-class German children in the dust when challenged to resist a reachable treat while waiting for another goodie, a new study finds.

While Nso values and parenting techniques generally characterize small-scale farming populations, especially in Africa, hunter-gatherers are another story, says anthropologist Barry Hewlett of Washington State University in Vancouver. Traditional hunter-gatherer groups value individual freedom and consider everyone to be relatively equal, regardless of age. Parents usually don’t tell their kids what to do, and children show little deference to parents and elders.

Find out more

Science News