Anasazi Heritage Center nearing storage capacity

Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, looks at an artifact in the basement of the Anasazi Heitage Center on May 5. Bridget Ambler, the supervisory museum curator, explained how a bar in the cup could have been used to mix chocolate. Enlargephoto

Mary Shinn/The Cortez Journal

Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, looks at an artifact in the basement of the Anasazi Heitage Center on May 5. Bridget Ambler, the supervisory museum curator, explained how a bar in the cup could have been used to mix chocolate.

Pieces of the past including ladles, beads, and pots, number in the millions at the Anasazi Heritage Center, where the shelves in the cavernous basement are reaching capacity from oil and gas development.

Before the ground is disturbed by development, artifacts are taken to the Heritage Center, keeping the flow of artifacts steady.

"I don't anticipate that slowing down anywhere in the near future," said Bridget Ambler, the museum curator.

Ambler estimates that the archival space will be full in three years, and the bulk storage could be full in about six years unless new shelving is installed. That could extend the timeline by 14 years.

The bulk of the center's 3.8 million artifacts are kept in storage, but during the summer, the public can get a taste of the ever-growing collection weekly.

The highlights of the tour are several pieces with religious significance to the Hopi tribe, including a sunflower bowl and a clay badger.

A few select photos of the Wetherill family archives, which include hundreds of photos, letters and the guest book from their ranch.

The repository is one of three in the country and the only one open to the public for tours, said tour guide Marty Costos.

Rep. Scott Tipton visited the collection on May 5 and took the tour with Ambler and center's director Marietta Eaton. Among other topics, the group discussed the cost of storage and the high density of the archaeological sites.

"For us it's ubiquitous, it's everywhere. Once you get out of the Southwest, where you have such excellent preservation - among the best in the whole world - it is a really rare phenomenon," said Ambler.

Through Crow Canyon Archeological Center, private donations contribute $500 per cubic to store a box in perpetuity.

But factoring climate control, staff time, security systems and conservation services, the cost is estimated to be as high as $9,115 per cubic foot, said Ambler.

Right now there is no long-term plan for expansion or to share the storage with another facility.

Tours of the collection are held Thursdays at 2 p.m. through Oct. 31. Reservations: 970-882-5600

mshinn@cortezjournal.com