8 July 2006
Looters still ravaging ancient Arizona
Experts fear looting of ancient Native American burial sites in Arizona (USA) is on the rise, though Land Department investigator Brad Geeck said there are no hard statistics to track those trends. "Every year, the calls seem to increase." The rewards, experts say, outweigh the risks. A single intact pot can bring as much as $75,000. Desecrating human remains to get to the pot is a misdemeanor, with a fine of less than $500. Federal and state antiquities laws can bring looters serious prison time - on a second offense. But there is no law against excavating pots on private land unless it is associated with a burial site.
Despite numerous recommendations to the Legislature during the past decade, there still are only two investigators to police nearly 9 million acres of state trust land in Arizona. To help even the playing field, Geeck has turned to aerial surveillance and partnering with non-profit archaeological groups.
Pothunters today are sophisticated, well organized and good at discovering archaeological sites and graves, he said. "They use a steel rod with a steel point and shove it into the ground," Geeck said. When the pole moves freely, detecting an open space, they likely have found a burial site, he said.
"We know little about northeastern Arizona sites. And the way it's going, we'll never know much because it's all going to be ripped apart," said John Madson, associate curator of archaeology at the Arizona State Museum in Tucson. He added that in the past, looted pots have primarily been sold through Western stores and other retail outlets. More recently, pots and shards are being auctioned off on eBay.
Prompted by a developer's plans to dig up a 100-room, 14th-century Sinaguan site near Cornville, about 10 miles northwest of Cottonwood, the Arizona Legislature in 1990 passed emergency legislation to stop grave robbers from unearthing Indian burial grounds. The bill made it illegal to knowingly disturb any buried human remains or burial artifacts without permission of the state, but the law is difficult to enforce.
Madson said the changing of ranch ownership in communities like St. Johns has also contributed to the problem. He said that for more than 100 years, many ranchers protected the sites and kept people away. But their children, who inherited the ranches, don't care about that, he said, and are dividing their parent's property into ranchettes and often leasing them to pothunters. Geeck said looters also are putting minimum down payments on properties with known archaeological sites. "After they've raped the land, they vanish," he said.
But Geeck said an even bigger problem is convincing people in communities like St. Johns that pothunting is a crime. Madson said many people in that area believe pothunting is recreation. "Families have been doing it for 100 years, and they're not about to stop," Madson said.
Source: The Arizona Republic (6 July 2006)
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