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Archaeologists express the challenges of studying Native American artifacts after items were stolen

Two Amarillo men are facing up to two years in prison and payment after stealing Native...
Two Amarillo men are facing up to two years in prison and payment after stealing Native American artifacts from the Cross Bar Management area north of Amarillo.(KFDA)
Updated: Mar. 8, 2021 at 6:34 PM CST
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AMARILLO, Texas (KFDA) - After two men pleaded guilty to stealing Native American artifacts from the Cross Bar Management area, archaeologists say it will be hard to try and reconstruct the context of the historical site.

Federal agents report confiscating 1,500 artifacts from them; things like burial beads and arrowheads.

The artifacts were from the Antelope Creek Culture which was a group of Native Americans living in the Texas Panhandle sometime between 1200 and 1500 A.D.

“From the perspective of a professional archaeologist, I think of the destruction to the site. The culture resources are nonrenewable resources. That means when they’re gone, they’re gone. We don’t have information; we lose data points. So, we don’t know where that artifact came from, what was it associated with? What other artifacts were found with it, what was not found with it, what was settlement around it,” said Veronica Arias, curator of anthropology and natural history, Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum.

“It’s like looking at a whole page of a book. But if you rip part of that page out, as an artifact hunter would, and pull it out of its context, you destroy the story,” said Joe Rogers, archaeological steward for the Texas Historical Commission and part time anthropology instructor at WTAMU.

They lived in the Panhandle for about 300 years in partly underground homes, but left during a drought.

They were farmers who grew corn, beans and squash and also hunted buffalo.

Their arrowheads, pottery and architecture were unique to their culture.

“The only places we find things if one of those houses had been abandon and used for a trash pit. Or they stored their grains and food stuff in what we call bell shaped pits about a meter wide and about 2 meters deep and then they would cap those and store grain and to keep it out. Then if vermin got in there or rot got in it, then they would use those for trash pits. Those are what attract looters,” said Rogers.

“It’s associated with a prehistoric culture that thrived in the Texas Panhandle across the width of the Texas Panhandle back from A.D. 1200 to about 1450 or so, and they left distinctive architecture and artifacts that we can associate with them,” said Arias.

If you find artifacts archaeologists, ask you to notify a professional and to not remove it from the site so they can record it.

If it is found on state or federal land, it is protected. If it is found on private property, then it is considered the property of the landowner.

To learn more about archaeological field opportunities, you can contact either the Texas Archaeological Society or the Texas Historical Commission.

The Texas Archaeological Society hosts an annual field school, as well as several 2-day workshops or academies on archaeology.

Here are some helpful links:

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