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4 October 2008
Thieves target Mojave National Preserve artifacts

Mojave National Preserve (Arizona, USA) has 1,600 documented archaeological sites, some dating to 10,000 BCE. Many of them have been stripped of their pottery, baskets, stone tools and metates, arrowheads and other artifacts. "What surprises me is how much material used to be there," said David Nichols, the preserve's full-time archaeologist, who compared his findings with old field surveys. "At most of these sites, I'd say 70 percent of the visible cultural material is gone."
     Rampant looting predates the Park Service. An area first documented in 1977 was so rich in artifacts that it was dubbed the Freightwagon Site because you could fill one with the stuff. A researcher's report offered this prescient observation: "As soon as this site location becomes public knowledge, it will be vandalized by off-the-road enthusiasts." When an associate of Nichols' revisited the area last year, nearly everything was gone. Off-road quad tracks led straight to the site from the freeway. "It's awful," Nichols said. "And because the place is so vast we never, ever catch anyone in the act of doing anything."
     American Indian petroglyphs have been cut from rock walls. Boulders adorned with ancient art have vanished. Vandalism is pervasive, especially of petroglyphs depicting "mask figures," which resemble a human face. People shoot at them for target practice. "I dream of the day that I come around a corner and find a guy with a hammer and chisel," Nichols said. Maybe he shouldn't, given that Nichols patrols the backcountry unarmed.

Source: AZ Central (28 September 2008)

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