Sunday, November 12, 2006

Looters ravage ruins to sell pottery, heirlooms on black market

[Source: Dennis Wagner, Arizona Republic] -- In the dead of night, looters are destroying the history of America, desecrating sacred Indian ruins. An estimated 80 percent of the nation's ancient archaeological sites have been plundered or robbed by shovel-toting looters. Though some of the pillaging is done by amateurs who don't know any better, more serious damage is wrought by professionals who dig deep, sometimes even using backhoes.

The motive is money. Indian artifacts are coveted worldwide by collectors willing to pay for trophy pieces of the past. Looters are just the first link in a chain that includes collectors, galleries, trade shows and Internet sites such as eBay. But stopping the black-market business is virtually impossible because of a lack of manpower for enforcement and loopholes in the law that make it hard to convict the few who get caught.

The result is a scientific and spiritual loss. "They're changing history," Vernelda Grant, tribal archaeologist for the San Carlos Apaches, says as she stands amid 800-year-old ruins transformed into a crater field. "They're killing us. They're killing the existence of who we are."

[Note: To read the full article, click here. Photo of archaeologist Vernelda Grant by Jack Kurtz, Arizona Republic]