Museum Security Network

Archaeologists Hunt Grave Robbers In AZ Backcountry – Looters Increase Activity During Bad Economy

PHOENIX, Ariz. — Grave robbers are looting Arizona’s historic ruins at an alarming rate, according to archaeologists and investigators with the Tonto National Forest.
“What they’re doing out here is disrupting and in most cases destroying human remains while they’re seeking out pots to sell,” said Scott Wood, an archaeologist for the Tonto National Forest.
Wood brought a CBS 5 News team to the scene of one of the most recent lootings. The site is known as Mud Springs Ruins and was inhabited by the people known as the Hohokam 700 years ago.
At the center of the 50-room complex, two freshly dug holes illustrate the lengths to which grave robbers will go to steal decorated pottery, according to Wood. Mud Springs is located nearly 30 miles away from the nearest paved road.
“Learning all the things we can learn about this site depends on seeing the artifacts in their original location and context. Once you start removing that stuff from its original context, it’s like tearing pages out of a book. You’re never going to get the whole story,” said Wood.
Looting an archaeological site is a federal crime. In the Tonto National Forest, law enforcement field officers work with archaeologists and investigators to figure out who is responsible for the destruction, but finding clues months after the crime poses challenges.
“We’re basically looking for anything. It can be difficult,” said an investigator whose identity CBS 5 News agreed to conceal because of her ongoing cases.
Investigators believe the looting at Mud Springs took place within the past six months. They know little about the people who are responsible, but because of the effort the looters put into finding this location and digging the holes, investigators suspect the pottery stolen was headed to the black market.
“It’s national. It’s international. Stuff stolen here can end up in the market in Europe, Saudi Arabia, Japan. There’s a market all over the world,” said Wood.
Wood told CBS 5 News looting tends to increase during economic downturns, which means more of Arizona’s historic ruins remain at risk.
“What they’re looking for are the painted, decorated pottery — the stuff that’s most often found, unfortunately, in graves in this area,” said Wood.
If you see evidence of archaeological damage or suspicious activity at a ruin, you can report it by calling the Federal Law Enforcement Communications Center at 800-637-9152.

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