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Artifact looting, vandalism surge in southeastern Utah

Public, private partnership aims to foil thieves
In January, a looter with a rock saw and chisel attempted to steal this ancient petroglyph near Bluff, Utah. Vandalism and theft of archaeological resources are a significant problem on public lands in the Southwest.

The Bureau of Land Management and

Under the agreement, Friends of Cedar Mesa will offer a standing reward of up to $2,500 for information that leads to convictions in cases in San Juan County, Utah.

“Most people are unaware of the alarming and ongoing problem of looting and vandalism, including disturbing human remains, in the greater Cedar Mesa area,” said Josh Ewing, executive director of the conservation-minded Friends of Cedar Mesa. “Violators are hard to catch, so we partnered with the BLM to create a fund that hopefully encourages the public to report illegal activity.”

In the past five years, the BLM has reported a surge of disturbing archaeological crimes. Between October 2011 and April 2016, the BLM’s field office in Monticello said it investigated 25 cases of looting, vandalism and disturbance of human remains in San Juan County.

In 2012, a historic Navajo hogan was torn down by campers.In 2013, a burial site in Butler Wash was desecrated by looters.In 2014, a 2,000-year-old pictograph site in Grand Gulch was vandalized.In 2015, three remote sites on Cedar Mesa were dug up by pot hunters, and a burial alcove was dug up in Beef Basin. A prehistoric wall was pulled down at Monarch Cave on Comb Ridge and, in the same area, a wall at Double Stack ruin was knocked down.Vandalism has continued in the past four months, the BLM said. In January, a petroglyph was partially removed from a wall with a rock saw and chisel near Bluff, badly marring the ancient rock art. In March, campers on Muley Point built a fire ring out of building blocks from a 2,000- to 3,000-year-old site, and vandals scratched their names in a rock-art cave. In April, ATV riders drove through archaeological sites in the Lower Fish Creek Wilderness Study Area.

Looting and vandalism is also a concern on Canyons of the Ancient National Monument in Southwest Colorado, says monument manager Marietta Eaton. A recent incident is under investigation.

“The American public is betrayed by these crimes,” Eaton said. “When visiting our public lands, report suspicious activity. Protecting our archaeological resources is so important because it’s the heritage of all Americans.”

Archaeological sites and artifacts are protected by numerous federal and state laws, including the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, Archaeological Resources Protection Act, National Historic Preservation Act, Antiquities Act and the Utah State Antiquities Act. Violations of the laws include theft or intentional damage of cliff dwellings, shrines, pottery, stone tools, rock-art panels, burials and historic structures.

“These archaeological resources remain sacred to many Native American tribes and are important to many Utah residents. Protecting them is one of the most critical components of the BLM’s mission,” said Jenna Whitlock, acting director of Utah’s BLM office. “I hope that this new reward program sends a strong message to looters, vandals and anyone desecrating burial sites that BLM-Utah considers these crimes morally and legally unacceptable.”

Anyone with information about such crimes is encouraged to call (800) 722-3998. BLM-Utah’s Office of Law Enforcement and Security will investigate legitimate tips and incidents occurring on BLM-administered lands and will share information with other entities about crimes in their jurisdictions, Whitlock said.

For details about the reward fund policy, visit www.CedarMesaFriends.org/reward. In addition to cooperative efforts with BLM-Utah, Friends of Cedar Mesa partners with the Utah State Institutional Trust Lands Administration, the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and the U.S. Forest Service to promote the protection of archaeological resources in the Cedar Mesa area.

jmimiaga@the-journal.com

Be on the lookout for looters

The nonprofit Friends of Cedar Mesa is offering a standing $2,500 reward to catch looters and vandals of southeast Utah’s Native American relics.

Friends of Cedar Mesa and Bureau of Land Management officials offer the following tips on how to spot incidents of looting and vandalism.

Watch for freshly dug earth.

Watch for discarded human bones, often a sign that a burial site has been desecrated in an attempt to steal artifacts.

Take photos of damaged areas, including tire tracks and footprints. Note vehicles and license plates of suspects.

Watch and listen for rock saws, which are being used to cut out rock-art from sandstone walls.

Watch for the illegal use of ropes to access ruins, often a sign of looting.

Watch for round holes in the ground at ruin sites. Looters use wire to probe for artifacts.

Preserve evidence of looting or vandalism by leaving a suspected site untouched.

Be wary of people who visit ruins at night. Looters often work at night to avoid detection.

Be wary about posting information and pictures of archaeological sites online. GPS data or directions to a site may tip off looters.

Do not confront suspects. Record where and how the suspicious activity occurs, and contact authorities.

Who to call

To report incidents of looting or vandalism on southwest Colorado public lands contact the Colorado State Patrol communication center at (970) 249-4392, the Montezuma County Sheriff at 970-565-8452, or the Anasazi Heritage Center at 970-882-4811. For incidents in southeast Utah, call 1-800-722-3998.

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