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Any map reader who has paid attention in recent years has noticed references to many archaeological sites disappearing from maps of Utah and other western states.

This is the U.S. Geological Survey's way of dealing with looters and vandals, who regularly destroy buildings, artifacts and other remains that could teach much about ancient civilizations.To be sure, the revised maps won't completely solve the problem. After all, millions of old maps still are in circulation, and any serious poacher would have little trouble finding one.

But they are an important first step that eventually will have an impact. And they won't keep serious and legitimate researchers and archaeologists from doing their jobs. The federal government still will give information to people who have a need.

If the new maps succeed in saving any ancient site they will be worth the effort.

Pothunters, the people who at least have some recognition of the value of artifacts and try to poach them for personal gain, are only part of the problem facing the remains of the ancient world.

In recent years, people have pushed over adobe walls and burned timbers that were part of foundations or structures, among other things.

The sad irony is that many of these structures and artifacts have survived harsh elements for hundreds of years, only to succumb to modern man's foolishness. Once destroyed, they can never be reclaimed.

Many of these sites are remote and impossible to police. They also are difficult to find without a map.

The USGS isn't alone in its efforts to limit access to these sites. The U.S. Parks Service, Bureau of Land Management and even the Automobile Club of Southern California have agreed to help.

Only those sites that are controlled and protected by a government or private agency will remain on maps in the future.

Modern men and women can learn much from the things ancient civilizations left behind. Their legacy deserves to be studied by people who are trained to understand these lessons, so that the public at large can learn and appreciate.

Perhaps the most compelling message these ancient people left is that communities and societies are fragile and temporary.

People who have little regard for preserving the past probably also have little regard for the preservation of present-day society. Any attempt to protect ancient remains from such fools should be applauded.