Where Did the State Archaeologists Go?

In Utah, three archaeologists were laid off due to budget cuts. Kevin Jones (state archaeologist), Ron Rood (assistant state archaeologist & possibly the outreach liason), and Derinna Kopp (physical anthropologist) were let go from the Antiquities Staff of the Utah State History Department.

The cuts were made by the Utah Department of Community and Culture, apparently as a part of Mike Hansen’s Strategic Plan to make the Utah state government more efficient. The Salt Lake Tribune states that these 3 positions were cut as part of a “‘menu’ of $550 million of possible budget cuts, including $154,300 in potential savings by cutting two positions in the historic preservation program.” — Loomis & Fahys

Source: Utah State History Dept. -- Archaeology Division

According to the article in the Salt Lake Tribune, these archaeologists were let go because they opposed the construction of a train station on top of an ancient (3000 year-old) archaeological site. The article later says that this issue was peacefully resolved, “But [Gov.] Herbert, a former president of the Utah Association of Realtors, won the praise of preservationists and tribes by ultimately signing a deal preserving 252 acres of the ancient American Indian village through a conservation easement granted to the nonprofit Utah Open Lands. UTA agreed to build its station and accompanying development farther north.”– Brandon Loomis & Judy Fahys, Salt Lake Tribune.  I recommend reading the comments section for some interesting perspectives on this issue, there are 342 of them.

In order to try to figure this out a little better, I visited the website for the Division of Utah State History. The archaeology staff is listed in two different places with two different lists, one list being much more populated than the other. In either case, the article states that only 2 people are left on the Antiquities staff, but my calculations put that number at at least 3 and possibly 7.

Being me (not a state archaeologist, as well as inquisitive, nosy, and skeptical), I wanted to try to figure out what all of these archaeologists in the Division of History do from the website. Alas, they did not have a nice transparent chart showing the organization of their division. I suppose I will have to find out some other way. Do you know how the Division of Utah State History works? If so, please let me know!

Update to the story: Controversy Didn’t Get the Archaeologists Fired – another Salt Lake Tribune article. Again- I recommend reading the comments section.

“JudgeGraft” writes about what the state archaeologists do, and it’s similar what John says in the comments here. Thanks John for explaining!

“The three archaeologists [Gov. Herbert] fired are the ones tasked with a primary concern for prehistoric resources. They are the ones that establish the standards for the work of archaeological professionals in the state. They assess the qualifications of permit applicants and assure their proposals are scientifically sound. They provide the last quality control check for thousands of reports coming in from around the state. They are the only ones with a broad, statewide perspective. They also are the ones who develop school programs so our kids can appreciate our heritage resources.” –JudgeGraft in Comments on Controversy Didn’t Get the Archaeologists Fired

Graft adds at the end, “Besides, how uncool is to fire a State Archaeologist named, Dr. Jones?”

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One thought on “Where Did the State Archaeologists Go?

  1. John says:

    Without knowing exactly, there’s likely different staff levels that range from managing projects and properties to being one of the staff who reviews other projects. They would review permit applications prior to archaeological projects on state or public land, or that involved some sort of public money. Following that, they would review the reports of results and the recommendations. This is, of course, where the politics can get involved, when the SHPO or the staff member assigned to review the project decides that further archaeological work needs to be done, or the area avoided.
    They’re also likely dealing not just with archaeology but also with historic structures and landmarks and such. They may or may not have any employees who actually conduct field archaeology themselves, or even research.
    Here in Texas, the Texas Historical Commission is also going to have a major staff reduction based in part on budget issues, but also on speculation that the Governor is getting payback for THC denying his request to remodel and redecorate the Governor’s Mansion. At one point, there were bills/budgets in the Legislature that would have closed the THC entirely, but fortunately “cooler” heads prevailed (after all, there are federal regulations and compliance involved here too!) and some money was allocated.

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