Handling artifacts can be against the law

I have enjoyed hiking and exploring Southwest Colorado for many years with the Seniors Outdoors group that I cofounded in 1998. Four years ago, I stumbled across a buried skeleton under an overhanging rock on federal land.

At first, I thought the exposed back of the skull was the bottom of a pot. When I realized it was a skull, I covered it with dirt. Since that day, I have periodically returned with the Seniors Outdoors group to the sight to look at the flat back of the skull. I picked up the skull so that the hikers could photograph it. I returned the skull to the burial and covered it with dirt after each visit.

It is important for all Native Americans who feel disrespected by my actions to understand that this was never my intent, and I apologize for any grief that I have caused to Native American people. In addition, it is important for anyone who visits public lands to be aware that these actions are a crime under the Archaeological Resources Protection Act which was enacted to “secure, for the present and future benefit of the American people, the protection of archaeological resources and sites that are on public lands and Indian lands, and to foster increased cooperation and exchange of information between governmental authorities, the professional archaeological community and private individuals.”

For my actions, I was prosecuted and sentenced in federal court. I accept responsibility for my actions and the sentence imposed upon me. My sentence was 10 days in jail, a fine of more than $1,000 and a year of probation. The sentence that could have been imposed was up to one year in jail and a $100,000 fine. It is important for everyone to understand that touching or picking up artifacts on public lands without a permit is against the law.

Howard Drake