ST. GEORGE – In the wake of the looting of a prehistoric Native American village near Beaver Dam, Arizona, land managers are asking the public’s help in protecting the wide variety of cultural resources located on the Arizona Strip.
The looting case has prompted Bureau of Land Management to ask for increased awareness of the role the public can play in preserving archeological resources for present and future generations of Americans, BLM Arizona Strip District spokeswoman Rachel Carnahan said.
The looted site near Beaver Dam is a large village covering the entire top of a bluff and containing subsurface pit houses, petroglyph rock art, pictographs, grinding mortars, cooking features, artifact middens and human burials.
Part of the site had been investigated by archaeologists in the 1960s during the construction of the Interstate 15 Highway.
Damage and looting at the site was first found in 2011 during a fiber-optic subsurface cable installation and continued for the next three years.
The BLM began an investigation and eventually identified half a dozen individuals involved in looting and damaging the site as well as selling Native American artifacts.
After obtaining a search warrant for a residence in Beaver Dam, investigators incidentally uncovered a methamphetamine distribution ring in addition to looted Native American artifacts.
Two people were ultimately charged and prosecuted for archaeological resource crimes and related drug activities.
Tara Melissa Craft of Beaver Dam, Arizona, pleaded guilty in December in U.S. District Court, District of Arizona, to unlawful removal of archaeological resources.
Court documents state that 20 pieces of pottery collected from the archaeological site and a sifting screen were found in plain sight at Craft’s house.
After obtaining a federal search warrant, a total of 181 artifacts were found at the residence, along with shovels, books and notepads, court documents state. Marijuana was found on Craft’s person and methamphetamine was found in the house.
Craft pleaded guilty to one count of the unlawful removal of archaeological resources, a Class A misdemeanor. She was sentenced to one year’s probation and ordered to pay $2,000 in restitution.
Craft was also banned from BLM land in Utah, Nevada and Arizona with the exception of travel on federal, state or local highways or roads.
Matthew Branden Doyle pleaded guilty in federal court in December to one Class A misdemeanor for possession of methamphetamine; he was placed on probation for two years.
Protecting the past
Although the impacts to the Beaver Dam site totaled more than $4,000 in damages, Carnahan said, the long-term impacts are greater for the public and Native American tribes who hold these sites sacred.
In addition to its scientific value, this site is of archaeological interest for its potential to provide an understanding of past human behavior.
Oral histories of American Indian groups including the Paiute and Pueblo peoples tell of their prehistoric migration and occupation of the Arizona and Utah areas, and the significance of the Grand Canyon area to their cultural and religious beliefs, Carnahan said.
Archaeological sites and other areas that were blessed and actively visited by their Native American ancestors are considered sacred to this day, Carnahan said.
For many Native Americans the disturbance of these places is considered religious sacrilege comparable to the vandalism of churches and the illegal looting of consecrated graveyards, she said.
The 1976 Federal Land Policy and Management Act recognized the need for BLM law enforcement to provide for public safety and protect resources on the nation’s public lands, Carnahan said. Rangers, special agents and archaeologists work together to monitor and protect historic and prehistoric sites in partnership with state and local law enforcement agencies.
“Whether it be an old ranch or school house, a pioneer trail or American Indian granary, each cultural site is significant and valuable to all Americans in linking us to past generations,” she said.
Vandalism and looting desecrates and devalues American Indian sites, which tribes consider sacred, Carnahan said.
“These are places where rock writings, artifacts and structures should be honored for their sacred and historic values so others may enjoy them for years to come.”
The Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1979 protects cultural resource items and makes collecting, buying or selling items from public lands illegal.
The Arizona Strip contains a wealth of cultural resources that are important to understanding both recorded history and prehistory, Carnahan said.
So far, 5,900 cultural sites have been identified on the 195,000 acres that have been inventoried for cultural resources.
How to help
The public is encouraged to report vandalism, dumping and other suspicious activities on public lands by calling 1-800-637-9152, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
To learn more about protecting public lands, see Tread Lightly’s Respect and Protect program webpage.
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