Cultural resources in Gold Butte National Monument
Native Americans have been dependent on the Gold Butte area for over 3,000 years. This traditional travel zone is filled with stories of the past through artifacts and ancient writings. Areas of habitation dot the landscape: rock shelters with blackened roofs, middens of charcoal soil littered with broken pottery, and rock tools.
Roasting pits, or agave ovens, are circular mounds of white rock up to 25 feet in diameter. The rocks turn white after heating and are tossed to the edge outlining the ovens continuous use. There are still ovens in the Gold Butte area with the grinding stones (metate and mano) lying about as if waiting for reuse. Archaeologists estimate over 2,000 sites within the Gold Butte complex.
The rock art in Gold Butte is one of our prides and joys, but also, is one of the few remaining writings of an ancient people. The modern Moapa and Las Vegas Bands of Paiutes find their roots in Gold Butte. It is our job to be good neighbors and protect these historical works. Rock art is found throughout the sandstone area of the central Gold Butte Complex. It can be found “billboard” style with panels up to 90 feet long; a few rock art panels show generations of use. Now present generations stand by these drawings and theorize the meaning of these messages. Hopefully, this will continue for generations to come.
The Southern Nevada Public Lands Management Act (SNPLMA) funded an archaeology study that was completed at the end of the 2007. The scope of this work included research from random surveys of habitat type, surveys of known sites, several excavations, rock art documentation, and a historic report including an oral history document. Under this same funding, a biological study was approved and initiated in 2008. The results of this extensive archaeological survey will help the BLM and stakeholders decide the best management practices for the sensitive cultural resource sin the Gold Butte area.
Gold Butte is fortunate to have many caring residents in the surrounding communities. There are approximately 30 site stewards for the area through the State Historic Preservation Office’s Nevada Site Stewardship Program. Stewards monitor sensitive archaeological and historical sites and report any damage or changes to the area. Unfortunately, the reports go to a file at the BLM field office and there is rarely followup by Agency personnel or law enforcement. Of all the areas in Clark County, Gold Butte receives the most reports, and the most reports of damage.
The volunteer site stewardship program is the only on the ground management presently in Gold Butte to protect cultural resources. There is an empty kiosk as you enter the area, no rules, no education, and no interpretation to promote public awareness of the importance of these irreplaceable resources.
It is heart breaking for many concerned citizens to see the destruction taking place. Rock Art is scratched out, on, and over, and shot at.
Areas once littered with pottery sherds and pieces of rock tools have all disappeared. Metates, manos, and arrowheads, all of scientific importance, are vanishing. Rock shelters and habitation sites are sifted through and dug out by those looking for artifacts. ATV tracks cross agave pits churning the blackened earth. Once elusive sites are now driven right up to, crushing plants and creating new routes; changing this landscape forever. Indeed, we are losing this irreplaceable resource at an alarming rate.
Threats to cultural resources at Gold Butte
Today, the single largest problem cultural resource managers face is unintentional damage caused by visitors. Remember that your actions have consequences. Not only can we cause irreparable damage to irreplaceable resources; archaeological sites are protected by the Antiquities Protection Act of 1906 and the Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1979. Please notify rangers or other federal land management authorities if you discover any illegal activity.
- Keep in mind that not entering a site and viewing it from a distance will reduce the impact a site receives. People may say, “It’s just a couple of us and it’s just this one time,” but there may be thousands of people saying the same thing.
- STOP, LOOK and THINK before entering a cultural site. Try to locate the midden area (the trash pile), so you can avoid walking on it. Middens contain important archaeological artifacts and information. They are extremely fragile, and walking over them will cause damage.
- If a trail has been built across a site, stay on it. Foot traffic, especially on the midden, causes erosion that may undermine the walls of structures above. This is the most severe type of impact caused by continual visits to a site.
- When you see “thousands” of potsherds and other artifacts, leave them. If each visitor took just one artifact, there would soon be none left.
- Do not camp in or near ruins. (It is illegal to do so.) Ruins are fragile, and the less use they get, the longer they will last.
- Moving rocks and tree branches to climb to high places destroys site integrity. Avoid touching plaster walls.
- Enjoy rock art by viewing, sketching and photographing it. Never chalk, trace or otherwise touch rock art. Any kind of direct contact causes these ancient figures to disintegrate.
- Creating modern “rock art” is known as vandalism and is punishable by law.
- Never build fires in alcoves, even alcoves that don’t seem to contain archaeological remains. Sites may not be obvious.
- Climbing on roofs and walls can destroy in a moment what has lasted for hundreds of years.
- Cultural sites are places of ancestral importance to Native Americans and should be treated with respect.