Monday 23 February 2009

Quis Custodiet: Archaeology Heist Revealed In Alabama

US collectors make a huge fuss when stuff goes missing from foreign museums and storerooms, "see?", they say, "the source countries cannot be trusted with cultural property". They keep silent about the thefts taking place in their own country.

The site at Moundville on the banks of the Black Warrior River in central Alabama was a 300-acre village and from about 1000 to 1450 A.D. was one of the largest communities in North America. About 1,000 Mississippian Indians lived at Moundville at its height. When the village died out for unknown reasons, the area was left littered with pottery and other remnants of a highly organized society. The site is now an archaeological park operated by the University of Alabama. Items excavated from Moundville in the 1930s were stored in a locked, four-story repository at the site. The University has just announced that a large number of finds from the site have been stolen. The disappearance of 264 pottery vessels was the largest recorded antiquities theft in the South. The theft was discovered when University of Michigan students researching the collection found boxes of artifacts lined up by a wall, waiting to be carried out and empty places where other boxes should have been. What is remarkable about the admission is that the theft took place several decades ago, in 1980.

Jim Knight, chairman of anthropology at the University said that the theft was never made public; only a brief notice was placed in a scholarly journal.
The crime was probably silenced because of embarrassment and the belief that the stolen pottery was taken to collectors overseas and permanently out of reach, said Knight, who started work at Alabama the year after the heist. Knight disagrees with that smuggling theory and said the bottles, bowls and jars may still be in the United States. He hopes that publicizing the crime will lead to the recovery of the items. A university statement issued last week said the stolen items were appraised in 1980 at $1 million, which equals about $2.3 million today after inflation. The pieces included many of the best artifacts ever excavated at Moundville, [...] The university recently posted a Web site about the theft, complete with photos of all the stolen items. The FBI was the lead law enforcement agency working on the case, but no one was arrested before the case went cold. FBI spokesman Craig Dahle said he was unfamiliar with the theft and could not find any mention of it in agency records. University spokeswoman Cathy Andreen said she could find no record that the school did anything to make the general public aware of the loss. "None of the people who were working (at Moundville) then are there now," she said. The loss was staggering: About 70 percent of the university's exhibit-quality artifacts were gone. Only the best items were taken, leading Knight to conclude that whoever took them knew what they were after.
The Moundville repository now has locking steel doors, motion sensors, strict rules for gaining access and climate-controlled storage.

Jay Reeves, 'Archaeology Heist Revealed In Alabama' CBA News February 11, 2009

UPDATE May 2011: Oddly enough this same story (same wording) has re-surfaced on the Social Studies Council of Alabama website dated 13th may 2011. It would seem from this that the stolen pottery has still not turned up on the no-questions-asked market... 'Archaeology Heist Revealed In Alabama – CBS News'.

UPDATE Jan 22nd 2012: Still more amazing is the re-appearance of this story on a metal detecting advocay website/blog Dick Stout: "Alabama (sic) Needs Our Help" January 22, 2012, where there is a slight alteration to the title of the article:
Archaeology Heist By Professional Archaeologists Revealed In Alabama

No comments:

Creative Commons License
Ten utwór jest dostępny na licencji Creative Commons Uznanie autorstwa-Bez utworów zależnych 3.0 Unported.