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Pottery Heist Volume 55 Number 1, January/February 2002
by Eric A. Powell

A Caddo Nation official believes these pots were stolen from a Texas laboratory to prevent their repatriation. (Courtesy TARL)

Last July someone slipped into the Texas Archaeological Research Laboratory (TARL) at the University of Texas at Austin, making off with 21 Native American pots. Among those taken were 17 Caddo pots from northeast Texas dating from A.D. 1200-1600, including some of the best-known examples of ceramics from that area. A collection of Archaic (6000 B.C.-A.D. 200) dart points and reproductions of decorated pebbles are also missing.

Though the Caddo Nation of Oklahoma was soon informed of the pots' disappearance, the theft was kept quiet until mid-October. Then, with word beginning to leak out, TARL issued a public appeal for help in tracking down the artifacts.

Bobby Gonzalez, a Caddo official, says many of the pots were on a National Park Service list for eventual repatriation to the Caddo. He believes the thief, or thieves, may have specifically targeted the pots to prevent their repatriation and then took the Archaic dart points and painted pebbles in a weak attempt to make the burglary appear improvised. Pointing out that many of the pots are from sites visited by the Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto, Gonzalez says that "with those vessels missing, history is lost forever. It's everybody's loss."

According to Darrel Creel, director of TARL, university police are now "considering everyone a suspect, even me." The University of Texas has posted a $5,000 reward for information leading to the recovery of the collection.

* Texas Archaeological Research Laboratory
* Texas Beyond History

© 2002 by the Archaeological Institute of America