Archaeology Magazine Archive

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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Looters Foiled Volume 52 Number 5, September/October 1999
by Martha Cooper

[image] Pastrana and artifacts [LARGER IMAGE], including jadeite beads [LARGER IMAGE], at looted site. (Martha Cooper)[image]

Last December, local archaeology enthusiast Alex Pastrana was driving his truck near Blue Creek, a Maya site in northern Belize, when he saw a bulldozer with an attached claw gouging out limestone marl for road paving and fill. Stopping to investigate, Pastrana saw two men extracting a large bowl from a hole in the ground--the pair had chanced upon a chultun, or storage pit, that had been re-used as an elite Protoclassic (A.D. 50-250) tomb. Pastrana confronted the men and told them to stop, saying that he was acting on the authority of the landowner, a friend of his. The men believed him and allowed Pastrana to examine the burial chamber. They insisted on keeping the artifacts, but allowed Pastrana to take notes on the grave goods--a jade necklace and bracelet and 28 pots, most in perfect condition--and to photograph them in situ. Having no authority to claim the artifacts and being outnumbered, Pastrana left. To his surprise, the following morning he found all of the pots piled outside his front door. The looters had had a change of heart. Meanwhile, word reached Belize's Department of Archaeology that looters had found a rich burial. The next day, government officials and police went to Pastrana's house to arrest him, but after he showed them his drawings and numbered list of pots and jade objects, their suspicions turned to thanks.

© 1999 by the Archaeological Institute of America