Reward rises to $20K for info leading to stolen artifacts
MOUNDVILLE, Ala. (AP) — The reward for information leading to the recovery of more 260 artifacts stolen from Moundville Archaeological Park decades ago has been increased from $15,000 to $20,000.
Dr. Jim Knight, professor emeritus of anthropology at the University of Alabama, said several private citizens who hope to see the artifacts returned are offering the reward.
Al.com reports Knight said 264 pottery vessels and other artifacts were stolen from the Erskine Ramsay Archaeological Repository in 1980. An appraisal revealed the artifacts — jars, bottles, bowls, ornaments and jewelry — are worth around $1 million. Since the theft, none has shown up for sale or trade, leading Knight to believe the collection may still be intact.
“With the availability of the internet, it is now possible to distribute these photographs much more widely than was previously feasible. Also, Native American pottery vessels are now routinely sold in internet auctions,” Knight told The Tuscaloosa News . “These can be monitored by a public aware of this 40-year-old crime and the great need to reunite these rare artifacts with the citizens of Alabama and the South.
“The reward, together with advancements in technology that allow for the rapid dissemination of information by news outlets and social media, offer new hope in an effort to recover the artifacts.”
At the time, the stolen items represented about 70 percent of the museum’s exhibit-quality artifacts and 20 percent of the entire Moundville vessel collection that was curated by the Alabama Museum of Natural History. Experts believe the thieves were knowledgeable about the artifacts because they targeted the highest-quality pieces.
Excavated in the 1930s, the artifacts are high-quality engraved or painted ceremonial pots and bowls, some which held food offerings that were buried with the dead. Others were ordinary cooking pots, bottles and shell jewelry. Many of the vessel engravings depict supernatural creatures, such as the flying serpent, which would guard a person’s passage into the afterlife. The designs were highly distinctive of Moundville, which is considered a world heritage site. The Mississippian Indians settled in what is now the Moundville area at the beginning of the 11th century. The area reached its peak activity and population around the year 1300 when it had about 1,000 residents. About 10,000 resided in the entire Black Warrior Valley floodplain at the time.
The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act makes it illegal to sell human remains or cultural artifacts of Native Americans unless a person legally owns the item. Collectors pay millions for antiquities such as the Moundville vessels, Knight said in a 2003 interview with The Tuscaloosa News.
The Alabama Museum of Natural History has established a tipline at 205-348-2800 that will allow those with information about the thefts to leave confidential messages or information.
For more information, including photographs of the artifacts, visit www.museums.ua.edu/oas/stolenartifacts .