Posts Tagged 'artifacts'

Fighting illegal artifact looting: “A new kind of respect”

by Katie Bowell, Curator of Cultural Interpretation

This past March I wrote about artifacts; specifically, what to do when you come across an artifact or cultural resource in one of our parks, trails, or natural spaces. The main message of the post was “you can look, but you can’t collect.” Collecting historic and prehistoric artifacts on public land is illegal under Colorado law, and transporting illegally collected artifacts across state lines is against federal law. However, even though it’s been over 100 years since the federal government passed the first laws protecting artifacts, illegal collecting still happens all over the country. And while some  illegally collected artifacts may end up on a mantel, others enter the stream of a robust black market that has ties to, among other things, the drug trade.

Last month, 24 people in Blanding, Utah, were indicted on charges of collecting and selling illegally acquired Native American artifacts, part of that very lucrative black market that exists for objects removed from archaeological sites.

NPR’s Howard Berkes wrote about the arrests here and the divided opinions within Blanding after the arrests here (be sure to check out the Photo Gallery “The Lure of Ancient Artifacts”).

I can understand the frustrations some people have over the current laws protecting artifacts; in our not-too-distant past collecting was legal and quite common. I also understand the bonds that people can feel towards artifacts; objects connect you to the past and, ultimately, to people and that is an invaluable experience. However, those reasonings don’t excuse the fact that, to quote Craig Childs, collecting “is a form of archaeological genocide, erasing the record of people from a place.” I hope that here, in Fort Collins, we will treat our archaeological sites with respect and take care of them for the future.

Anne O’Brien, a commentator on Berkes’ second article, put it well. “… it’s still hard to look down, see an arrow point or a pot uncovered by rain or a painted shard and leave it alone. That’s a new kind of respect.”


Don’t disturb those artifacts! (And here’s why.)

by Katie Bowell, Curator of Cultural Interpretation, and Dr. Brenda Martin, Curator, Fort Collins Museum

In the first part of this post, we talked about what to do if you come across an artifact or other cultural resource while out enjoying our natural areas and open spaces in and around Fort Collins. Here are the reasons why you should not disturb them:

IT IS DISRESPECTFUL: These resources are part of the cultural legacy of people who have lived here, and leaving them alone demonstrates respect for the people who made them or owned them. It also allows others to enjoy them today and in the future. Many Native American groups with ties to this area believe that objects are still connected to the people who made them, and collecting them disrupts those connections between the present and past peoples and the land.

IT IS ILLEGAL: According to Colorado State law, it is illegal to knowingly take a single artifact, or excavate, damage, or destroy any prehistorical or historical resources on land owned by the City of Fort Collins. A person can be fined for a misdemeanor and offenders may face a fine, time in jail, or both.

IT IS A LOSS: Once an object is removed from its surroundings, it loses its ability to educate us about the past. Additionally, objects are often fragile and when people handle them they can break, or the oils and acids on our skin can permanently damage them.

REMEMBER: The most effective things you can do to help preserve our cultural heritage is to have respect for the artifacts and the people who made them, the laws protecting them, and to leave them alone if you find them. If you do find an artifact, please contact a reliable resource (such as the Fort Collins Museum at 970-221-6738) as soon as you can.


What to do with that artifact?

by Katie Bowell, Curator of Cultural and Interpretation, and Dr. Brenda Martin, Curator, Fort Collins Museum

One of the many things we at the Fort Collins Museum do “outside of our walls” is to work with the City’s Natural Areas Program to help interpret and protect the cultural resources found in our natural areas. We have a wonderful abundance of natural areas to enjoy, and with the opening this summer of the City’s Soapstone Prairie Natural Area and Larimer County’s Red Mountain Ranch Open Space, it’s very important to all of us that people know the right thing to do if they find an artifact. This is part one of a two-part series.

Line shack at Red Mountain Ranch Open Space

Line shack at Red Mountain Ranch Open Space

Fort Collins and the surrounding area have a long human history that reaches back thousands of years. Because people have had a relationship with this land for so long, evidence of their presence is all around us, especially in the form of artifacts. An artifact is an object made, used, or transported by humans, and includes things like arrowheads or tools made from stone or bone, or historical objects like buttons or glass bottles. Other cultural resources that you may come across include prehistoric stone circles or fire hearths eroding out of a trail bank, or historic structures that are at least 100 years old.

As you enjoy the city’s parks, trails, and natural spaces, there’s a chance you may find an artifact or note another type of cultural resource. You can help preserve our collective cultural legacy by taking simple steps to protect these valuable assets:

  • Leave it alone! As tempting as it is to pick up an artifact or walk around inside a structure, leave it as you found it, even if it looks as if it may be damaged. If you have a camera or a cell phone with a camera, take a picture of it.
  • Record its location. For example, estimate the object’s distance along a trail by noting its location relative to nearby landmarks. If you’re lucky enough to have a GPS device with you, record the object’s coordinates. Again use your camera to help note the artifact’s location.
  •  Tell a reliable source. As soon as possible, contact the Fort Collins Museum (970-221-6738) and tell us what you have seen and where it is located so that we can investigate under the auspices of a valid permit.

In part two, we’ll talk about the reasons why it’s important not to disturb artifacts and other cultural resources.

March 2023

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