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Little Rock, Arkansas: Caddo Indian pottery missing from campus

Caddo Indian pottery missing from campus

By: Associated Press – Texarkana Gazette – Published: 09/14/2010
LITTLE ROCK—Four days into his new job at Southern Arkansas University, archaeologist Jamie Brandon learned that 26 pieces of Caddo Indian pottery were missing from the Magnolia campus.

Four years later, he’s still hoping they’ll surface.

The pots, bowls and bottles were to be returned to the Caddo tribe and were being packed for the transfer, Brandon said Monday. The items had been excavated from a 1980 dig known as Cedar Grove in Lafayette County. The Army Corps of Engineers was preparing to do levee work at the site, so artifacts and remains from the Caddo burial ground were removed for eventual return to the Caddo Nation.

The collection was outside the main artifact storage space when the theft happened in the summer of 2006. The exact date is not known.

“It was in a room by itself. Apparently, the thief did not have access to the larger collection,” said Brandon, Research Station archaeologist with the Arkansas Archeological Survey at the university.

Each piece is unique in that it was made by hand, not turned on a wheel. The thief selected whole pots, not fragments or vessels reconstructed from fragments. Judging by photographs, some were in pristine condition. They date to the mid-1500s, around the time Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto was in Arkansas.

The pots, packed with food and oils, had been buried with the dead to see them into the next life, Brandon said.

“These are sacred vessels to the people in the Caddo Nation,” he said.

The pots were dug from federal land owned by the Army Corps of Engineers, so the pots technically belonged to the federal government. The FBI was part of the investigation along with the Southern Arkansas University police.

Brandon said investigators have no suspect.

The pots were well-documented through drawings, measurements and photographs.

“I can literally tell you the number of millimeters between the lines on the pieces,” Brandon said.

The documentation, including an Internet posting with a detailed description of each pot, would make it difficult for the thief to move the pottery in a legitimate sale.

Brandon said if some or all of the collection is changing hands in the black market, a new buyer may not know the pottery was stolen. When that person tries to sell the pot in a legal, public sale, the fate of the collection could become known.

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