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An aging American Indian with rotting teeth and arthritic joints sat down and died in the Utah desert outside Escalante with a musket, ammunition and a bucket. Blowing sand covered his corpse for more than a century before a hiker stumbled across it last year.
This is the likely scenario of how a nearly complete skeleton, dubbed "Escalante Man" in BLM documents, came to be buried a few hundred paces off Highway 12 in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. What remains a mystery is why a dozen FBI agents excluded archaeologists from its April 16 excavation, treating the site as a crime scene rather than the historic site many believe it clearly was. "It's an ongoing investigation. Our policy is we cannot comment on it," FBI spokesman Juan Becerra said. Agents stress they had legitimate reasons for excluding the monument's own archaeologist from the dig, even though they invited a TV news crew to document it, and the U.S. Attorney's Office signed off on the investigation. While the BLM and FBI acted in partnership on the dig, the episode has attracted criticism from state officials charged with protecting cultural resources and triggered dissension within the BLM.
"It seems the FBI is running roughshod over the BLM, scientific procedures and legal requirements in their unexplained zeal to excavate an historic site," Matt Zweifel, the BLM's excluded Kanab-based archaeologist, wrote in a four-page memo documenting a litany of concerns two days before the agents descended on the site with shovels and screens.