Stealing History 

Looters ransack archaeological sites throughout the West, but Montana officials notice a surprising lack of in-state incidents. A Missoula specialist says they're just not digging deep enough.

Page 5 of 5

Earlier this month, the Army Corps of Engineers contacted McAllister via e-mail to investigate a case of vandalism at Red Elk Rock Shelter, a roughly 2,500-year-old Nez Perce pictograph site near Lewiston, Idaho. He's already busy prepping for three cultural resource law enforcement courses later this year, but can't pass up a chance to work close to home.

Fetterman says her own first brushes with looting came while working in cultural resource management in Idaho. She was helping conduct damage assessment at the sites and simply couldn't believe how many holes had been dug illegally. She and McAllister agree if the problem exists just over the border, surely it exists here.

click to enlarge Mary Williams, an archaeologist with the Bitterroot National Forest, says some people are under the mistaken impression that it’s their right to collect artifacts, even if they do so on federal land. “The laws spell out very clearly what is and isn’t allowed,” she says. - CATHRINE L. WALTERS
  • Cathrine L. Walters
  • Mary Williams, an archaeologist with the Bitterroot National Forest, says some people are under the mistaken impression that it’s their right to collect artifacts, even if they do so on federal land. “The laws spell out very clearly what is and isn’t allowed,” she says.

"It's occurring in Montana," McAllister says, "and for whatever reason the people aren't being caught."

McAllister's come to realize, however, that his toughest converts might be his peers. Fetterman is one of the exceptions, an archaeologist bothered by the same nagging frustration. Archaeologists are as important as federal agents and state officers in maintaining the integrity of the nation's cultural heritage. But for whatever reason, McAllister says, cultural resource law enforcement holds little appeal.

That's why he remains one of the few specialists for hire.

"There aren't a lot of archaeologists that are really that interested in this area, which is depressing," McAllister says. "I feel like it should be the number one priority for all archaeologist, no matter if you're a Martin McAllister or a CRM [cultural resource management] archaeologist or a research archaeologist, the number one priority should be protecting the sites."

With no work to be had in his home state, McAllister continues to monitor activity in the Southwest. The looting violations in the Cerberus case, for example, spanned sites in Arizona, Utah, New Mexico and Colorado. It's a haunting reminder for McAllister of his past dealings with federal agents in the Four Corners. Clearly Jones, Jones and Gevara was just the beginning for law enforcement—and for McAllister.

"We've had a number of situations in which we've taught the classes and cases have resulted directly from the classes because of the consciousness raising we've been able to do," McAllister says. "We're not in a position to say that because we've done this training there have been 900 more ARPA convictions than there would have otherwise. We don't have statistics like that. But the more people we can make aware of this problem, whether it's law enforcement people or the general public, the more eyes and ears we have."

asakariassen@missoulanews.com

  • Email
  • Print

More by Alex Sakariassen

  • Badger-Two Medicine

    Support swells for Blackfeet
    • Apr 30, 2015
  • Boozy roots

    UM professor examines alcohol's role in early democracy
    • Apr 30, 2015
  • More »

© 2015 Missoula News/Independent Publishing | Powered by Foundation