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17 December 2003
Theft hampers archaeology site protection

Last June, while patrolling some remote areas in north-central Wyoming (USA), Ranger Jason Caffey discovered that a rockshelter that archaeologists had been excavating for a decade was looted, scooped out in the middle with thousands of stone artifacts and bone fragments cast aside. But since then, no arrests have been made and leads have been limited. The vandalism points out the difficulty that a limited number of federal officials in the field face in protecting remote archaeological sites containing valuable artifacts.
     Researchers are hoping to salvage what they can at the BA Cave rockshelter, which they believed could help provide clues about the environment and human dwellers thousands of years ago. "It's going to be a significant impact on ongoing research," said Mike Bies, an archaeologist with the Bureau of Land Management in Worland. "They moved as much dirt in one event as we moved in 10 years."
     Artifacts suggest occupation back about 7,000 years, and perhaps earlier, Bies said. Archaeologists have recovered items such as tools, bone and stone artifacts, and plant remains and pollen which help provide clues to climate and environment. Left behind by looters were thousands of pieces, many seemingly sorted, Bies said, that included bone pieces, stone artifacts and parts of projectile points. The bureau has calculated damages at nearly $7 million.
     Looting on federal lands is a problem that often goes unnoticed. The Bureau of Land Management has just six law enforcement rangers in Wyoming and relies on employees and the public to report problems on the roughly 18 million acres the agency oversees. Cindy Wertz, a spokeswoman for the bureau, said that publicizing certain areas - such as the Black Mountain Archaeological District that includes the BA Cave - can be a double-edge sword.
     Tim Nowak, a bureau archaeologist, said caves and rockshelters are popular targets for vandals and looters, despite their often remote or dangerous locations. The bureau is offering a $20,000 reward for information leading to the criminals' arrest and conviction. Caffey, who believes the looting happened just weeks before he discovered it, hopes the money will help provide a break in the case.

Source: Associated Press (15 December 2003)

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