In 2016, Tara Craft and Matthew Doyle looted an Anasazi, or Ancestral Puebloan, archaeological site on public lands near Beaver Dam, Arizona. During the investigation, both Craft and Doyle admitted to digging the site’s pit houses to loot ceramics, lithics, and any other artifacts they could find. Approximately 200 pieces of cultural and archaeological materials were found in their home. These are thought to originate at various unknown sites in Utah and Nevada, in addition to the Arizona Strip’s Beaver Dam region.
The Arizona Strip is home to innumerable amounts of archaeological, historic, cultural, and natural resources. The region is largely defined as all land in Arizona that is north of the Colorado River and west of Page, Arizona to the Nevada and Utah borders. Well-known archaeological sites in this region include Grand Canyon National Park and Vermilion Cliffs National Monument, with additional archaeological ruins held in the Kaibab National Forest, Lake Mead Recreation Area, and Pipe Spring National Monument, among others.
Though the exact location of the looted area is unknown for security purposes, the site is described “as a large village covering the entire top of a bluff and containing subsurface pit houses, petroglyph rock art, pictographs, grinding mortars, cooking features, artifact middens and human burials.” It was partially excavated in the 1960s, but there have not been any additional surveys or analyses since. Because of this extensive looting, the rich context of these looted objects will never be known. Additionally, the overall stratigraphy of the remote and under-studied site is now permanently damaged, which will make future research and excavation difficult.
BLM Arizona Strip District Spokesperson Rachel Carnahan said that “even though the damage was about $4,000 worth, the long lasting repercussions are far greater.” She continued by appealing to local residents: “when these things are damaged, it denies all of us opportunities to learn more about our history.” In addition to the archaeological and scientific significance of these sites and artifacts, they hold immense religious and cultural meaning for the contemporary indigenous populations of the Four Corners region. These objects should be “honored for their sacred and historic values” and persevered for public enjoyment.
The Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1979 [ARPA] and the 1979 Federal Land Policy and Management Act both protect archaeological resources. ARPA legally protects cultural resources, and prohibits the looting, trafficking, and sale of cultural heritage items in the United States. The lesser known Federal Land Policy and Management Act allows for Bureau of Land Management law enforcement to protect archaeological, cultural, and historic landscapes in tandem with other legal units, such as state and local law enforcements.
Craft pleaded guilty to the unlawful removal of archaeological resources, and was “sentenced to one year’s probation and ordered to pay $2,000 in restitution.” Doyle also pleaded guilty, though for associated methamphetamine charges, and was placed on probation for two years.
The BLM in Utah recently launched a “Tread Lightly!” campaign, in which they aim to educate the public about the protection of cultural resources. In addition, the campaign hopes to engage with Native American communities to preserve archaeologically and culturally significant landscapes.
The looting of Beaver Dam underscores the importance of upholding President Obama’s Bears Ears and Golden Butte National Monument designations, as American Indian archaeological looting is an ever-present threat throughout the United States and for its residents. If you observe archaeological looting, destruction, or trafficking in the United States, the BLM asks you to call 1-800-637-9152. To become further involved in the fight against archaeological looting, consider donating to or working with SAFE.
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