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Man is charged with illegally excavating archaeological site containing Native American remains

Man is charged with illegally excavating archaeological site containing Native American remains
A man is accused of looting an archaeological site in the Sierra National Forest. (Los Angeles Times)

A Madera County man has been indicted by a federal grand jury on charges that he illegally excavated a site containing Native American remains and artifacts in the county, according to federal documents.

Vance Franklin Myers, 31, of Ahwahnee was charged with possession of stolen government property and illegally removing, damaging or defacing archaeological artifacts from public land, the U.S. attorney’s office said Monday.

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Myers has pleaded not guilty.

According to the criminal complaint, Myers admitted to excavating a site in the Willow Creek area of Box Canyon in the Sierra National Forest that contained artifacts and human remains. The artifacts he is accused of collecting are worth a total of $59,588 including the cost of repairs, according to the complaint.

Archaeologists believe members of the Mono tribe lived in the area as long as 1,500 years ago.

Myers also confessed to removing a video camera installed by investigators, which captured him excavating the site multiple times, sometimes accompanied by a woman, a toddler and a dog, according to the complaint.

Prosecutors say crews fighting a wildfire in the forest in 2015 found the excavated site along with human remains, artifacts and hand tools used for excavation. When investigators inspected the area, they saw mounds of sifted dirt and discarded artifacts in small piles around the site, which was littered with trash and tools.

U.S. Forest Service archaeologists and tribal members were called to restore the area and installed a second camera and license plate reader in August 2015. The looting continued, the complaint said, and video showed a man looking over the restored land.

About a year later, an anonymous person identified the people in the video, including Myers, authorities said.

The criminal complaint quotes Myers saying: “I know what I did is a crime but I really enjoy finding and sifting areas. I really care about and respect the culture.”

Myers invited investigators into his home to “get whatever” artifacts they could find, the complaint said. Prosecutors say he was found with stone tools, arrowheads, beads and other artifacts.

Myers said that he was “vaguely aware” of the Archaeological Resources Protection Act and that he had recently begun exploring the hobby. He told officials that he spent about 12 hours at the excavation site each time he visited and that he had found human remains.

“We are extremely proud of the Forest Service’s role in helping to reduce the theft and destruction of Native American remains and artifacts from national forestlands here in California,” Randy Moore, the Forest Service’s Pacific Southwest regional forester, said in a statement.

Myers’ next scheduled court appearance is Jan. 28. If convicted on all charges, he faces up to two years in prison and a $100,000 fine.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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