- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 20, 2002

RICHMOND (AP) A new type of criminal is desecrating Virginia's history, and the main target is Indian remains.
Looters dig up grave sites and steal ceremonial headdresses masks, jewelry, turquoise, metal, skulls and bones anything they can get their hands on and anything they can sell for top dollar. Some collectors will pay thousands for a piece of the past.
"For the collector, it's not about the ceremonial or religious value it's about how it looks on their mantelpiece," said Robert D. Hicks, a law-enforcement specialist with the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services.
"We have a huge, burgeoning national and international market for old things," Mr. Hicks said Saturday at the Conference on Indian Affairs sponsored by the Virginia Council on Indians.
Stealing from burial grounds is illegal under the U.S. Archaeological Resources Protection Act. It prohibits the excavation, removal, damage, sale, purchase and transportation of items that are "of past human existence," of archaeological interest or that are more than 100 years old.
The Native American Grave Protection and Repatriation Act also protects sites from theft and vandalism.
In 1995, Mr. Hicks started a program to train law-enforcement officials how to identify and examine crime scenes involving theft of resources, which he dubbed "time crime."
Mr. Hicks showed slides of holes in the ground evidence of looters. A stray cigarette butt or beer can littered some scenes. In one photo, a young boy playing "archaeologist" posed next to the body of a young Indian he dug up.
"I can't even watch, it makes me so angry," said Reeva Tilley, chairman of the Virginia Council on Indians.
Indians must be particularly diligent to avoid grave desecration, Mr. Hicks said. In one Tennessee town, the sheriff deputized some members of a local Cherokee tribe to patrol an Indian cemetery frequented by grave robbers. When the patrols began, the looting stopped, he said.
Virginia has countless tiny cemeteries and makeshift burial grounds that are hundreds of years old and tucked away in the woods or deep in fields. They are prime targets for looters, who sell the artifacts through a close-knit community of dealers behind the scenes at auctions, Mr. Hicks said. One antique pot from a tribe in the southwestern United States sold for $400,000.
Dealers also sell illegal items online, making the job of law enforcement even more challenging.
Internet auction sites allow anonymous dealing of illegal antiques, Mr. Hicks said. A quick search of a popular Web auction site produced advertisements for several high-priced Indian artifacts more than 500 years old.
"It's been immensely difficult for law enforcement to penetrate the inner circle," Mr. Hicks said.

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