A vault, not a souvenir shop


In the July 19, 2010, issue, HCN included a sidebar article entitled "How to Return a Pot." There is, however, no legal process for returning artifacts taken from public lands. We often receive calls from people who have artifacts and want to return them. We can give your readers several reasons not to ever place themselves in this position:

Collecting artifacts, including arrowheads, from public or tribal lands without a permit is a federal crime. Violators risk prosecution and prison sentences of up to one year or more and/or possible fines in the tens of thousands of dollars.

An archaeological site is a vault filled with information, not a souvenir shop. Removing artifacts is like taking things from a museum. When trained professionals excavate a site, they make sure no significant information is lost and that resulting artifacts remain available to the public for research, education and interpretation.

Public-land resources belong to all Americans and future generations. If every visitor takes something, soon there will be nothing left for others to discover. Everyone should have the opportunity to visit an archaeological site that has not been picked clean.

The ancestors of today's American Indians left this rich legacy. Taking artifacts is a theft of their history. As Dawa Taylor, a member of the Hopi Tribe, explains: "I hope you get the same sense I get when I visit these sites. Respect, harmony, peace ... and knowing that this will stay here for other generations to come." Rose Simpson of the Pueblo of Santa Clara asks visitors to these sites: "Leave your prayers here. Leave your spiritual consciousness here. But don't take anything with you."

For those interested in learning about American Indian perspectives and the importance of cultural resources, view the Visit With Respect DVD at http://www.blm.gov/co/st/en/nm/canm.html.

LouAnn Jacobson, manager
BLM Canyons of the Ancients National Monument and Anasazi Heritage Center

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