By Al Vogel, Dugway Proving Ground Public AffairsMarch 3, 2016
DUGWAY PROVING GROUND, Utah -- Before this massive Army post was created in 1942, it already had a fascinating human story at least 13,000 years old.
Protecting the remnants of this human activity, while allowing testing and training missions to continue, is the responsibility of archaeologist Rachel Quist.
Dugway's cultural resources manager, Quist works with archaeologists Jennifer DeGraffenreid, cultural resources lead, Nate Nelson and Nate Anderson. Two interns accompany: Bruce Kaiser, a retired physicist, and Ellyse Simons, an archaeologist and recent college graduate.
Before a test, training or upgrade, the Cultural Resources office conducts surveys to ensure historical items and features (trails, shelters, campsites, etc.) are not damaged or destroyed. It can be daunting, given Dugway's 800,000 acres. Surveys are often conducted on short notice.
"Having those in-house archaeologists allows us to be flexible enough to meet the requirements of the fast-paced testing mission," Quist said.
Quist also deals with tribal issues concerning Dugway, oversees Dugway's historic buildings and structures and is the post's de facto historian.
"Historian is not part of my job description, but it's important," she said.
A Utah native, Quist was raised in Bountiful, north of Salt Lake City, and attended the University of Utah on a four-year scholarship, maintaining a 4.0 grade point average. She began working at Dugway in 2001, as an intern in a program that grooms recent college graduates into a federal career path.
Before entering federal service, Quist worked for the University of Utah's Natural History Museum of Utah, and was an archaeologist for the Bureau of Land Management and two private companies.
Intrigued by the little mysteries of past lives, Quist has wanted to be an archaeologist since junior high.
"It was all I ever wanted to do. I told my school counselor I wanted to be an archaeologist, and they thought dinosaurs. It's not dinosaurs, its people," Quist said, explaining that archaeology studies the human past, while paleontology studies the past of non-human animals.
Dugway hasn't suffered as much souvenir hunting and metal detecting from the public as other lands still accessible. This has protected many artifacts, which are defined as "anything made or used by humans."
Federal protection of archaeological sites dates back to the Antiquities Act of 1906. The Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1979 (ARPA) expanded that protection, and significantly increased penalties for violators.
Quist noted that any artifact older than about 50 years, on federal or state land, is protected, even old pop bottles (her office bears a nice collection).
Her greatest frustration? "When people pick up artifacts, bring them to me, and think they are doing me a favor," she said.
Dugway archaeologists require the artifact be undisturbed. Take a photo and GPS coordinates, or even just notes, but don't touch. Given Dugway's mission, unknown objects shouldn't be disturbed.
"My folks have found a number of UXO (unexploded ordnance), and report it as required," Quist said.
Surveys reveal that Dugway contains the greatest concentration of the oldest archaeological sites in the contiguous 48 states (only Alaska has more). There are more than 1,000 sites 9,000 to 13,000 years old, Quist noted.
The need to leave artifacts undisturbed, but reported, was recently emphasized by a few stone spear points.
For decades, Cultural Resources has been given "arrowhead collections" gathered by Dugway residents. On rare occasions, some contained North America's oldest style of stone spear point, the Clovis.
Dugway archaeologists were intrigued, but frustrated. Removed from their setting, these few Clovis points could not positively be linked to Dugway, Quist noted.
Then in 2012, a few undisturbed Clovis points were found. Confirmed human activity in the area went from 8,000 to 13,000 years ago.
Quist and the others are passionate about their work because they see millennia of human activity that could be destroyed or damaged in an instant.
The most challenging aspect of Quist's job is meeting the legal requirements of historical preservation, while fulfilling test and mission requirements. Her office urges notification as soon as possible, because surveys and paperwork can be meticulous and lengthy.
The Cultural Resource Office often works with the customer to meet their needs, while still meeting legal requirements.
"Sometimes it takes creative thinking," Quist said.
Creative thinking, and an appreciation for at least 13,000 years of human activity -- from stone tools to a 50-year-old pop bottle.