Sunday, June 21, 2009

"What's Sacred?'

LDS Temple

I might not be able to read, but that doesn't mean I don't follow the news. I would have to be deaf not to know about what is happening in southeastern Utah. For anyone too far away to hear Dangerous' ranting, let me bring you up-to-date. Recently, 24 individuals were arrested and indicted for trafficking prehistoric artifacts. Every morning, Dangerous reads the latest headlines to me from the Salt Lake Tribune, "For some relics are best left alone;" "Hatch and Bennett call artifact raid overkill;" and "Official: BLM just doing its job in artifact arrests." The arrests captured national attention when the New York Times reported, "Indian Artifact Looting Case Unsettles a Utah Town."

To say the arrests and the controversy surrounding them have unsettled Dangerous is an understatement. As you know, we spend a lot of time in southeastern Utah visiting prehistoric ruins and rock art sites. Whenever a newspaper article identifies a location, most likely we have been there. To Dangerous and many others, these sites are sacred, and anyone caught vandalizing them should be prosecuted. Since I am only a sheep dog, I am not sure what "sacred" means. Dangerous tried to explain it to me using examples from the community where we live.

City Cemetery

Not far from our house, the LDS Church has built a beautiful temple. You can stand in our back yard and clearly see it. According to Dangerous, this ornate building is sacred to the Mormon people. They sacrifice time and money to build and maintain their temples. Members judged worthy by church authorities spend many hours participating in important rituals designed to assist the living and the dead. Inside, beautiful works of art and ornately decorated rooms symbolize creation and man's life on earth. Inside life affirming rituals for the living and dead are performed by faithful members of the Mormon Church. At the end of life, faithful members are interred in one of the beautifully manicured cemeteries near the temple. Faithful members are usually buried wearing symbolic clothing associated with their religion, and family members sometimes bury their loved ones with favorite trinkets commemorating important events or personal characteristics of the person in the grave. Walk through a predominantly Mormon cemetery and you will find headstones inscribed with important religious symbols and sayings paying tribute to the faithful and celebrating their progress into the next life.

Bannister Ruin

According to Dangerous, Mormon temples serve similar purposes today that the ancient, prehistoric kivas did for southwestern Indian cultures 1,200 years ago. In them, the creation story was probably told to clan members. It was explained how men emerged from the underworld through the sipapu. They were most likely taught about the great migrations of their people after emerging from the underworld and explained the life sustaining rituals associated with planting and growing crops important to sustaining life on earth. At life's end, their relatives and friends interred their bodies with important artifacts that symbolized their lives on earth. Frequently, important rock art is found close to where these ancient people lived and died. While the exact messages remain unknown, these panels most likely explain important historic events in these ancient people's lives and pay tribute to the living and dead.

Grand Gulch Kiva

The Green Mask

I can't answer directly, but I get the general idea about what is meant by "sacred" from Dangerous' examples. What I don't get is why prehistoric religion and culture don't receive the same respect that current, contemporary religions do today. I doubt anyone would tolerate looting artifacts or destroying the symbolic art found in the Mormon temple close to our house. I also doubt the public or law enforcement would allow artifact traffickers to remove headstones or even worse dig up the existing graves in public cemeteries where Dangerous' dead family members and friends are buried. But, what do I know? I am only a dog and not a United States Senator. Love to hear from you!

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