Wednesday, May 04, 2005


Looting along Lake Oahe


By Jodi Schwan
May 02, 2005

As the amount of water shrinks, the problems are piling up. Low water levels on the Missouri River are leading to trouble with looters. Along Lake Oahe, people have been stealing ancient artifacts.

The lake level is about 35 feet below normal. That means the amount of land around the lake has about doubled, giving archeologists a problem of prehistoric proportions.

The shoreline along Lake Oahe is already a lot more exposed than it was just a few years ago, and it will likely only keep growing. Senior field archaeologist Rick Harnois says, "We're on pace to set new record lows this year."

As the water recedes, new problems come to the surface.

Harnois says, "It's an epidemic nationwide and it's just starting to come to light on the Missouri River."

The artifacts found along the Missouri range in age from 100 years old to 10,000. And they were all taken by people searching the shorelines, most likely planning to sell the items.

Harnois says, "Anything from arrowheads and stone hammers, prehistoric up to historic, fort-related artifacts, bottles."

Archeologists also worry about protecting ancient burial grounds. The receding water is also uncovering human remains.

Harnois says, "We contact the tribes, have them come out here and pretty much defer to how they want to handle the situation."

As for the other artifacts, once they're removed from their natural environment, it's harder for archaeologists to study them. So this summer they're hoping to catch some of the repeat offenders before they can continue looting.

Harnois says, "These items out there on the beach belong to everyone and when you take these away you steal from everybody."

Many of the looters are selling the artifacts on the internet auction website ebay. So investigators are also looking there to catch people. Depending on the severity, even a first offense can land a looter in jail for a year, plus thousands in fines.


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