Looting or vandalizing a Native American burial ground, or digging for or removing archaeological artifacts from government property is an escalating problem, and action is being taken to stop it. As a result, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has partnered with various agencies such as the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Arkansas Historic Preservation, and the Osage Nation to spread awareness about the issue and step up efforts to stem the escalating problem of looting.
The goal of this partnership is to not only increase the number of investigations taking place in order to deter individuals from seeking out artifacts on government lands, but to also seek out convictions to show that this is a serious issue that will not be taken lightly.
Signage is now being placed at Corps parks in order to bring exposure to the penalties one will incur if found in violation of the law. Not only will perpetrators face prison time up to five years without parole, fines can also amount to $250,000. Two Arkansan men were recently sentenced to 36 months of jail time and were each ordered to pay restitution of $2,000.
However, this is not an issue solely relegated to Arkansas. In Mississippi, six individuals were sentenced in federal court after being convicted of removing artifacts from government land. Removing or digging up archeological artifacts on federal or tribal lands is a violation of the Archaeological Resources Protection Act. In this particular case artifacts were removed from Corps of Engineers property. Each individual’s sentence varied with one having to pay restitution of more than $41,000.
Excavating for artifacts and selling them for monetary gain is not only unethical, it’s a gross violation of Native Americans’ spiritual beliefs. These artifacts are not merely objects of art, they are sacred. When asked why these items are viewed as sacred, Casandra Beaver a Navajo Indian and Little Rock District Administrative Assistant stated, “When someone is looting and digging up these artifacts they are taking away a part of our heritage. When these objects are created we are putting a spirit into them, they have a purpose, and they have meaning.”
Another reason that this situation is problematic is due to cultural resources not being renewable. When asked for an example of what this means, Little Rock District Archaeologist and Tribal Liaison Allen Wilson, responded, “There are no more Mississippian sites being created. When people destroy areas such as this, or remove artifacts, it takes away from our body of knowledge about the cultures in these regions. The resources that we have to pull from are already limited. It’s about history preservation.”