13,000 Native American artifacts stolen from Southern Illinois refuge
Thousands of Native American artifacts were stolen then sold for profit. An Illinois man has been convicted of not only stealing those artifacts, but causing devastating damage to the Cypress Creek Wildlife Refuge where he found them.
The Southern Illinois refuge, two hours from St. Louis, is protected or it was supposed to be. But authorities say one man created his own archeological dig, taking 13,000 artifacts from the ground.
Authorities from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife conducted surveillance on the suspect, and then recovered the items at his home. Among the artifacts, they found spearheads, ax heads, and tools for grinding grain. They also found more than 200 pieces of human skeletal remains.
Authorities believe the suspect, identified as Leslie Jones, would steal the items then sell them.
"Mr. Jones was using the artifacts he would collect to supplement his income. This is how he made a living," said Geoff Donaldson of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The artifacts represent Native American culture from the Archaic Period, roughly between 3,000 and 9,000 years ago. Archeologists believe the site was a temporary village where people made tools with flint from the nearby creek. And what could have provided archeologists with knowledge of the past has now been largely destroyed.
"You cannot put a dollar amount on what was removed from the Cypress Creek Wildlife Refuge, you can't do that. It's a piece that can't be restored," Donaldson said.
For the most part, these artifacts can't be reburied so they'll likely end up on display in places like museums or educational centers. As for the human remains, archeologists say they can't identify any modern descendants because they are simply too old. There is a protocol for making sure the remains are handled properly and that a Native American organization will be consulted. But they too will likely end up in the Illinois State Museum.
For his crime, Leslie Jones was sentenced to 30-days in prison, 500-hours of community service, five years of probation and $150,000 in restitution.
Authorities hope this will act as a deterrent to others.
"We're hoping it will prevent other people, or make other people think twice before they try to do it," said Mike Brown of the Cypress Creek Wildlife Refuge.