Halting history’s bandits

Late last week, a Grand Junction man’s house was searched as a result of a lengthy investigation into the theft of Native American artifacts from the Four Corners region. A man residing in the house told The Daily Sentinel he is innocent of any wrongdoing. He was not arrested during the search of the home. But 23 other individuals from southeastern Utah and southwestern Colorado were.

We hope the investigation, prosecution and potential sentencing of those who may be convicted in this case will send a message to those who are stealing history from this region and robbing some Native Americans of items that belong to their cultural record.

Not that it will be easy to stop the thefts. There is an allure to heisting ancient artifacts that far outweighs the monetary rewards.

During a press conference last Wednesday to announce the initial arrests, the Department of Interior and FBI estimated the value of 250-plus artifacts recovered in the case at $335,000. No doubt many more items worth tens of thousands of dollars disappeared before the arrests.

Even so, as illegal operations go, this is small potatoes. It is nothing compared to say, Bernie Madoff’s investment scam or the big bucks involved in the illicit drug trade.

But there is a different sort of enticement to looting antiquities. Beyond the money, those involved lay claim to something, however temporarily, that is unique — something no one else can possess. It is not uncommon for those involved in the illegal trade in artifacts to also have a few prime pieces in their personal collections.

Ever since Mesa Verde was “discovered” by Anglo settlers in the late 19th century, people have carted off tons of Anasazi artifacts from the Four Corners region, along with Native American relics of more recent vintage.

Halting these raids on cultural artifacts has been hampered by inadequate laws until recently, and by limited federal and local resources. The law enforcement effort is further complicated by the fact that artifacts can be legally obtained from private lands.
In light of these facts, the arrests announced last week — and the two-year investigation that led to them — demonstrate a welcome commitment by federal authorities under two different administrations to attempt to halt this cultural robbery.


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