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December 14, 2008
Map of the Dead

There were people long before us. They built cities gone now, hummed to themselves walking down the road. Rabbits were skinned, great stones moved. The networks they left on the earth may at at first seem invisible, one place no different from the next, but a closer look and you begin to detect mounds, rock stacks, ruins, and places where the ground dips inexplicably into what were once collapsed chambers. Soon you are moving in their world, a map of the dead on the ground.

A man once told me that cutting a backhoe trench through a Missouri hill, his bucket started coming up with broken pots and bones. He shut off the engine and went to the landowner, but the landowner told him to ignore it, saying it was nobody's business, best not to attract attention. It must have been an ancient moundbuilder village, remnants of a civilization that once gathered along southeastern riverways where pyramid-like monuments (one with a larger footprint than the Great Pyramid of Giza) are now grass-covered and worn into hills. What else could the man do but continue his work? He turned the site into fill, made it as if these people never were. That was the last time he saw of anything of the sort, and he has been haunted by it ever since.

Had it been me, I would have stepped down from the backhoe and told the landowner that he could keep his money, destroy the place if he wanted, but not with my hand. In my book you don't erase human history in situ, not when it has somehow survived a thousand years neatly buried in the ground like this site did. Of course, I can say whatever I want. I wasn't there.



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