Ancient site in Indiana plundered

Digging did 'extraordinary damage' to village location, archaeologist says; 3 arrested.
By Fred Kelly
August 31, 2004

CAMP ATTERBURY, Ind. -- The secrets of a prehistoric village that once stood in Decatur County may remain locked away forever after thousands of ancient axes, arrowheads and other primitive tools were dug up and carted away.

Three southern Indiana men have been arrested in the case after conservation officers, following a tip, found the men digging with shovels, picks and garden hoes, said Steve Reinholt, a state Department of Natural Resources field officer.

Investigators found thousands of artifacts in the men's homes worth potentially tens of thousands of dollars, DNR officials said.

The looting is especially significant because once a site is disturbed, it's extremely difficult for archeologists to conduct a scientific survey.

"This is just like robbing an Egyptian tomb," Reinholt said.

DNR officials said Franklin P. Everman, 59, of North Vernon, and Carl Haas, 55, and Robin Sturdivant, 40, both of Westport, were arrested Aug. 17 on a preliminary charge of disturbing the ground in search of artifacts. The charge is a Class A misdemeanor and carries a penalty of up to one year in jail.

If the artifacts include human remains, the penalty is stiffer -- a Class D felony. That could mean up to 18 months in prison and up to a $10,000 fine.

Everman and Sturdivant could not be reached for comment Monday. Haas declined comment except to say "they are blowing this out of proportion."

In Indiana, it is illegal for anyone to conduct archeological digs without the permission of the DNR. Anyone who discovers artifacts must report their findings to the agency within two days.

Investigators say the men conducted digs in at least two places. Authorities did not divulge the locations.

The men apparently had collected the artifacts for years and kept them throughout their homes. State officials on Monday showed reporters many of the items they had seized.

Investigators have not turned up any evidence that the men were trying to sell the artifacts, but similar items often sell for hundreds of dollars on the Internet. Authorities said they did not know the exact value of the men's collections.

A stone ax found in one of the men's homes is worth about $1,000, said James Mohow, a DNR archeologist. Others axes found are worth between $200 and $300, he said.

No formal charges have been filed in the case, but the men remain suspects in the investigation, Decatur County Prosecutor William Smith said. Smith would not say why he has not authorized charges.

Following a tip, conservation officers found the men digging. They were wearing backpacks and had brought food and water so they could spend the day searching for artifacts, he said.

The suspects, who are friends, told authorities that they had gone to multiple sites for years to search for the artifacts, Reinholt said.

Investigators would not divulge where they arrested the men or where else they collected the artifacts because they feared others would attempt to loot the sites if they disclosed the locations.

DNR officers said that in addition to the boxes of stone artifacts, they found bone fragments that appear to be human during their search of the men's homes.

Authorities confiscated part of a wall from one residence that had a map of the county. Pinpointed on the map were locations where authorities believe the men thought there were artifacts.

The digging likely has ruined any chance to prove the artifacts are remnants of a Native American village scientists believe once was in Decatur County, Mohow said.

Digging has done "extraordinary damage," he said.

Looting cases are rare in Indiana. But Mohow said those who pursue the artifacts can go to great lengths to obtain them.

"I have seen where they come out at night in fatigues and use flashlights," he said. "Some (collectors) hire people to collect the items for them."

The case in Decatur County is a great loss for science, said Colleen Boyd, an anthropology professor at Ball State University.

Looting ancient, undiscovered Indian burial grounds and other sites is a lucrative black-market nationwide, Boyd said.

American Indians frequently buried a dead person's belongings with their body, Boyd said.

Many of the items end up for sale on the Internet. A search of an Internet auction site Monday found Indiana artifacts selling for as much as $142 each.

Many people want to collect burial remains and artifacts because "Indian remains have been mystified," Boyd said. "A lot of people feel they are spiritual."