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Fall 2000 The Big Dig
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The efforts of leading archaeologists to study and preserve the past take on particular urgency given that thousands of archaeological sites are lost each year to development. "In another few generations, most sites that exist today will be destroyed, erased from the Earth," says Stanish. While countries such as the United States devote considerable resources to protecting archaeological sites from being lost to development, for less-wealthy nations - which, ironically, tend to have the highest density of interesting archaeological sites - such protection efforts are frequently given a lower priority.

For now, though, archaeologists have never had it better. Enough sites from all time periods still exist in most parts of the world to enable researchers to address the full range of questions. Travel to these sites is easier and less expensive than at any time in history.

"It wasn't long ago that what we used to call expeditions required elaborate plans and cost a lot of money," says Stanish. "You'd have one expedition and that would have to last you several years. Now I commute to Peru three or four times a year." New laboratory and field technologies mean that once at the sites, archaeologists can collect exponentially more data than ever before. With digital technology, researchers can communicate their findings in better, faster and cheaper ways.

Says Stanish: "Historians will look back on this as a golden age when professionals fanned across the globe to document irreplaceable human heritage."

Dan Gordon is a writer in Los Angeles.

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