Comb Ridge, Utah, yields big discoveries

Comb Ridge yields big discoveries By Joe Bauman, Deseret Morning News

An archaeological survey of southern Utah’s Comb Ridge is documenting a huge number of sites, from Ice Age camps and 800-year-old Anasazi cliff dwellings to historic artifacts of Anglo settlers.

The field crews are finding “substantial” sites, says the project director, Winston Hurst, a Blanding resident, “real interesting sites that I didn’t know existed.”

Comb Ridge is a huge sandstone feature extending from west of Blanding to the vicinity of Bluff, San Juan County. Among the areas covered by the study is Butler Wash, one of the places where Anasazi Indians lived in cliff dwellings.

“Our project area’s about 25 miles long,” said Hurst. “We have 48,000 acres approximately in our survey area.”

The study was launched in 2005 under a contract between the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, administrator of most of the land, and the University of Colorado, Boulder. Hurst is a subcontractor. The principal investigator is Catherine M. Cameron, associate professor at the University of Colorado. …

So far, the team has found a great many archaeological sites, and unexpectedly interesting ones.

“We’ve got Anasazi roads,” Hurst said. These are strange lanes from eight to 10 yards wide “that they were carving across the desert for miles and miles and miles, connecting places of significance.

“We call them roads, but we don’t know what they were used for.” They probably weren’t roads in our sense of routes to transport supplies.

“They don’t behave like a road that’s designed to facilitate transport and traffic,” Hurst added, “They seem to be lines carved into the world.”

Such lines have been found in Chaco Canyon, a large Anasazi settlement in New Mexico.

“They’re very subtle,” Hurst said of the Utah features. “Sometimes you can see them when the light is at a low angle,” and then they’re hard to see when the sun is at its zenith. Some are easier to see during certain seasons.

They can be easy to miss. “They’re subtle enough that when you’re walking around on the ground, you don’t see them, you look right past them.”

Among other discoveries are Hopi-style pottery fragments on trails crossing Comb Ridge. They date from a period after the Hopi’s ancestors, the Anasazi, had abandoned settlements in Utah.

“We get these stray pieces of 14th, 15th century Hopi pottery,” Hurst said. The scientists find “just enough to indicate they were back there on a small scale.

“We’re not really sure what they were doing — maybe revisiting old ancestral shrines.”

CU-Boulder, BLM Collaborating On Four Corners Archaeology Project | News Center | University of Colorado at Boulder

A partnership between the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and the University of Colorado at Boulder initiated in August 2005 to inventory a rich archaeological region in southeastern Utah will continue this summer.

Known as the Comb Ridge Heritage Initiative, the project was designed to allow researchers to study a 48,000-acre region in the Four Corners area containing archaeological sites dating back 13,000 years, said CU-Boulder anthropology Professor Catherine Cameron. The $275,000 award to CU-Boulder from the BLM runs through 2008….

Comb Ridge consists of a 30-mile-long sandstone formation and its adjacent drainages, including Comb Wash and Butler Wash.