SAN DIEGO (CBS 8) - Local archaeologists are up in arms over the looting of Native American artifacts across San Diego County. In some cases, the illegal activity is getting posted online for all to see.
Indian artifact photos commonly are posted on forums like Arrowheadology.com and others. Members brag about finding arrowheads and pottery.
“What we call a pothunter or a looter will just arbitrarily dig and they will only keep the things that they recognize, typically the arrowheads, which are very recognizable artifacts,” said archaeologist Clint Linton, who is a local Kumeyaay Indian.
Linton said the backcountry is scattered with tens of thousands of Native American artifact sites.
Most people are familiar with the granite mortar stones that local Indians used to grind acorns and seeds.
But collecting arrowheads and other artifacts from these sites on public land is a misdemeanor.
If the looters happen to stumble into an Indian grave site, either on public land or private property, they can be charged with a felony.
“They are civil rights violations. They violate Native American graves and a lot of what you see posted online just by the look of it – from my experience – I can tell they came right out of graves,” said Linton.
Some artifacts can be mistaken for pottery but they may actually be urns used to store human remains.
“It's like they just don't think there's anything wrong with it,” said Sue Wade, a local archaeologist formerly with California State Parks.
Wade wants people to know it's not okay to take Indian artifacts.
“You know, the Indians are not coming back and recreating these sites. Once they're gone, they're gone and we'll never have that ability to experience that again,” Wade said.
Her advice to collectors: go ahead and take a photo but leave the artifact in place.
“The bragging rights that site looters have is that they're posting it on the internet and posting photographs. So, take the photographs in the field,” Wade said. “And maybe somebody will have a chance to see it again in the future.”
CBS News 8 contacted one East County collector and asked him about the photos he had posted on the Arrowheadology forum.
He claimed all his artifacts were legally collected on private property. But a short time later the photos were removed from the site.
Administrators with the Arrowheadology forum did not respond to an email seeking comment for his report. The forum lists the following warning to users:
“Before collecting any artifact please educate yourself and adhere to any and all applicable Federal, state, county or municipal laws/ordinances. Collecting should only be done where it is legal to do so, and only with specific permission of the owner of the land.”