Looting in Southern Illinois

Len Wells of the Evansville Courier Press had an interesting article Sunday on the looting of Native American burial grounds in Southern Illinois.

“We noticed a trail going out through a wheat field and followed it,” said John Schwegman of Metropolis, Ill., who works with the Kincaid Mounds Support Organization. “We found they had dug a hole about 6 feet long, 4 feet deep and 3 to 4 feet wide.”

Schwegman said the same site had been looted last summer. The hole was filled in then, but it was targeted again this spring.

“We believe there are at least two, and maybe more looters working, since they were working two holes at the same time,” Schwegman said. “They’re pretty bold, since they parked their vehicles in our own parking lot.”

Investigators said the looters have dug three holes in the Pope County ground and a fourth one a short distance away in Massac County. Pieces of broken flint and stones were discovered near the holes after looters abandoned the sites. The first holes were discovered about six weeks ago.

The Kincaid Mounds Historic Site consists of 105 acres in the heart of the Kincaid Mounds Archaeological Site. Portions of the site extend to private property north and east of the site. The state property has been designated a National Historic Landmark and is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Portions of the site had been excavated, but not the area targeted by the looters. The $2,000 reward is a good incentive, but the odds appear slim that these objects will be found or the culprits caught. This kind of theft carries criminal penalties under the National Stolen Property Act, as well as the Archaeological Resources Protection Act. However these criminal measures will likely not assist in bringing these looters to justice, and the huge land area makes patrolling this and other Native American sites – which would allow officials to catch the looter in the act – difficult and impracticable.

Can we consider eliminating the market in these objects? Yes, but for many objects found on private land in the United States, not associated with burial grounds or religious practices, it is legal for individuals to excavate. I’m not aware of how many native American objects are purportedly found on private land, I’d expect most objects come from National Historic Places, or Federal or State parks which have been set aside, and are protected de jure, but this may not always result in de facto protection.

There is a tendency perhaps to get too focused on looting which just occurs in Italy or the Mediterranean. The reality is it takes place everywhere, and the current legal and policy measures aimed at stopping it are having some effect, but much more can and should be done. Perhaps more scrutiny of the Portable Antiquities Scheme in England and Wales could help alleviate some of these problems…

Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

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