Detectives said he desecrated sacred land full of history and culture. Now, his five-decade hobby has finally come to an end.
Pots, ladles, arrowheads and shells were just some of the collection James Hamm had built up. Hamm was caught in the Gila in 2008, where he didn’t belong, digging on ancient Indian land. David Phillips, Archaeological Curator at the University of New Mexico’s Maxwell Museum, said amateur digs like the ones Hamm conducted, ruin history.
“Those are essentially pieces of evidence of the past,” said Phillips.
Phillips said it’s also extremely offensive to Native Americans who view those lands and artifacts as sacred.
“These are pieces of peoples’ heritage, and if someone walked into the national archives and stole the Declaration of Independence everybody would be up in arms,” said Phillips.
Hamm was even brazen enough to steal the signs warning the lands were sacred. Detectives said he kept maps and notes of his digs, which spread across Arizona and New Mexico, including places like Tularosa, Flagstaff and Cibola Forrest. Detectives said Hamm’s notes claimed some of the pieces came from gravesites. The total value of the loot adds up to more than $37,000.
While officials said they couldn’t prove Hamm sold artifacts, Phillips said there is an enormous black market for these types of artifacts.
“When you buy prehistoric pots you encourage people to go out and go dig up more prehistoric pots,” said Phillips.
Hamm took a plea deal. In exchange for turning over all the artifacts he’s stolen, he was sentenced to six months house arrest. He also paid back $4,500 to the federal government.
The feds are now working with tribes across the state to return artifacts and even re-bury some of the loot. Items they cannot return will be put in museums.