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“Keep the Bones in Snowmass”

November 8, 2010

On my first visit to the Field Museum in Chicago, I was thrilled to see a pair of passenger pigeons and appalled to come face-to-face with an Egyptian mummy.  Perhaps the most surreal encounter of all was turning the corner and finding myself looking at a large apatosaurus skeleton which had been found on an expedition to Grand Junction, Colorado in the early 1900s.

Finding that Colorado dinosaur in a Chicago museum was the first time I realized how Egyptologists must have felt at having their treasures scattered in museums across the world.

That feeling was reinforced during the summer I spent at Mesa Verde National Park as a seasonal park ranger.  One unusual aspect of the summer was touring the research center (soon to be replaced with a new visitor and research center) and finding that the excavated Ancestral Puebloans, including Esther, their distant Basketmaker mummified cousin from a cave near Durango, were stored in archival boxes.  No one, we were told, was allowed to look at Esther.  No one.  I remembered seeing her on display in the museum on my first visit to the park in the 1960s.  We’d learned in anthropology classes at Fort Lewis College that she wasn’t even *from* Mesa Verde, so I was glad that she was no longer on display.

I also wished that I could see the Gustav Nordenskiold collection.  Nordenskiold hauled his collection of artifacts from Mesa Verde back to Europe, where they’re currently housed in the National Museum of Finland.

Gustav Nordenskiold took artifacts home, but left carved numbers behind in the sandstone at Mesa Verde.

Thus, when someone in Aspen wrote a letter which the Aspen Times titled “Keep the Bones in Snowmass” about the recently-discovered mammoths being taken to the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, I was somewhat sympathetic.  I did wonder why the museum in Grand Junction didn’t get a shot at the remains, but as long as they’re in Colorado–well, that’s better than having them hauled off to Finland, or for that matter, Chicago.

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