Paleontologist pleads not guilty to fossil theft

GREAT FALLS, Mont. (AP) – A paleontologist who found one of the world’s best-preserved dinosaurs has pleaded not guilty to a federal charge that he stole fossils from Bureau of Land Management property near Malta.

Nate Murphy entered his plea Feb. 19 in U.S. District Court in Great Falls.

The federal charge alleges Murphy took fossils from BLM land between August 2006 and August 2007 and that the fossils were worth more than $1,000. Court records are not more specific about the items allegedly taken.

Murphy also faces a state charge that he took a turkey-size raptor fossil from private land near Malta with the intention of selling replicas of the fossil, which is worth between $150,000 and $400,000.

Murphy didn’t comment at the federal arraignment, but has previously said he never stole or sold dinosaur fossils.

Kevin O’Brien, a spokesman for the state attorney general’s office, said the state and federal cases stem from the same investigation.

The federal trial is set for Feb. 24 while the state trial is scheduled for March 18.

Murphy, who was released on his own recognizance, lives in Billings and runs a paleo-outfitting business, where he takes paying amateur diggers to private land near Grass Range to search for dinosaur fossils.

Murphy’s most famous find was a mummified dinosaur dubbed Leonardo, a 77 million-year-old duckbill with fossilized skin and organs. The dinosaur was featured on the cover of Newsweek and National Geographic and was featured in a Discovery Channel documentary. It is currently being displayed at the Houston Museum of Natural Sciences.

Information from: Great Falls Tribune,

Copyright 2009 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP-WS-02-20-09 1233EST

School’s cache of Indian artifacts is a rare find

EAST GREENVILLE, Pa. (AP) – The link between an ancient American Indian culture and a group of student archaeologists is a businessman and outdoorsman who died in 1964.

Charles Erb lived on Main Street in Red Hill, a town located approximately 37 miles northeast of Reading, Pa. He spent years walking the freshly plowed farm fields of Montgomery County, poking the earth with a long stick.

For decades, the artifacts collected by this unassuming man hung anonymously on the walls at Upper Perkiomen Middle School – until a Temple University archaeologist stopped by.

“We were awestruck,” said R. Michael Stewart, an associate professor and an expert in prehistoric Delaware Valley American Indians.

At 1,980 pieces, and with its probable origins centered in the Upper Perkiomen area, the collection was the kind of find that could reveal the lifestyle of native peoples going back 10,000 to 13,000 years, Stewart said.

The artifacts are being studied by Temple University professors and graduate students, along with members of the Upper Perkiomen High School Archaeology Club. They plan to create a database and write a paper for a project expected to take years.

“It’s the history of a lot of our ancestors – what they ate, how they lived,” said Edward Felix, 16, a sophomore member of the high school archaeology club. “It’s just interesting to hold them and think that a Native American actually used them to live.”
Read more

Egypt’s top archaeologist unveils ancient mummy

SAQQARA, Egypt (AP) – Egypt’s chief archaeologist has unveiled a completely preserved mummy inside a limestone sarcophagus sealed 2,600 years ago during pharaonic times.

The mummy was exposed for the first time Wednesday. It lies in a narrow shaft 36 feet below ground at the ancient necropolis of Saqqara outside of Cairo.

It’s part of a burial chamber discovered three weeks ago that holds eight wooden and limestone sarcophagi, along with 22 other mummies from the 26th Dynasty – Egypt’s last independent kingdom.

Laborers used crowbars to lift the sarcophagus’ lid and exposed the linen-wrapped mummy inside.

Antiquities chief Zahi Hawass says the mummies are an important discovery and much of Saqqara has yet to be unearthed.

Copyright 2009 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

AP-ES-02-11-09 0932EST

UK authorities return smuggled Pakistani pottery

LONDON (AP) – Britain’s border agency says it has returned a stash of 4,000-year-old Pakistani pottery smuggled into the U.K. almost two years ago.

The U.K. Border Agency handed over nearly 200 pieces of artifacts Monday. The colorful ceramic pieces had been brought into London from the Gulf city of Dubai labeled as modern pottery.

Custom Officer Anil Rajput said he seized the cargo at London’s Heathrow Airport in 2007 after spotting years of erosion and wear on the sides of the pottery. He tuned it over to the British Museum for investigation.

Investigators determined the pottery came from the prehistoric Pakistani city of Harappa. Its estimated worth is more than 100,000 pounds ($150,000.)

Copyright 2009 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

AP-CS-02-09-09 1354EST 

Feds return ancient jar to NM pueblo

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) – The U.S. Attorney’s Office and investigators with the Bureau of Land Management returned an ancient clay jar to its rightful owners Wednesday, nearly three years after two men tried to steal it from an archaeological site in western New Mexico.

Dignitaries of Acoma Pueblo accepted the jar, called an olla, during a brief ceremony.

“This pot that sits before us today has a lot of meaning behind it,” Acoma Pueblo Gov. Chandler Sanchez said. “It’s a part of our ancestors. It’s a part of who we are as Acoma people. We certainly with open arms accept it back.”

The jar was made sometime between 900 and 1250 A.D. Archeologists believe it may have originally served as a vessel for food left for travelers along the Zuni-Acoma trail.

An Acoma conservation officer, Norman Torivio, spotted a suspicious vehicle near the El Malpais area south of Grants in April 2006. After scanning the badlands with binoculars, he spotted two men walking in the distance. One carried something.
Read more

Five men indicted for American Indian artifact looting

EAGLE BUTTE, S.D. (AP) – The pottery, stone knives, arm bands and other American Indian items sitting in a vendor’s booth or posted online look innocent enough, but the centuries-old artifacts taken from South Dakota’s rugged Missouri River banks don’t belong to the sellers.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office has indicted five men, accusing them of looting or trading the ancient items.

The river’s banks are “supplying the rest of the country the artifacts they want for their collections,” said Richard Harnois, senior field archaeologist with the Army Corps of Engineers in Pierre. “There isn’t anywhere else in the country that is like this. You have a huge drainage system populated by people for 12,000 years and banks that are eroding.”

Federal laws prohibit the removal of human remains, funerary items and other sacred items from public and Indian land and bans anyone from knowingly buying those items. It is legal for landowners to take items from their own property.

“It sure seems to be the Missouri River trenches is the honey pot,” Harnois said.

“It’s just one huge artifact mine for some of these folks.”


Read more

Archaeologists discover rare figurine in Jerusalem – a boxer?

JERUSALEM (AP) – Israeli archaeologists say they have discovered a rare 1,800-year-old figurine in a Jerusalem excavation.

Dating from the time of the Roman Empire, the five-centimeter (2-inch) marble bust depicts the head of a man with a short curly beard and almond-shaped eyes.

A statement Monday from the Israel Antiquities Authority says nothing similar has been found before in the country.

The archaeologists believe it could depict an athlete, possibly a boxer. They think it was used as a weight and might have belonged to a merchant.

It was found in the ruins of a building destroyed by an earthquake in the fourth or fifth century. The dig outside the walls of Jerusalem’s Old City also recently yielded a well-preserved gold earring inlaid with pearls and a trove of more than 250 gold coins.

Copyright 2009 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

AP-CS-01-26-09 0830EST 

U.S., China sign agreement affecting importation of antiquities

“20” style=”width:100%; height:550px;” class=”mceEditor”>

WASHINGTON (AP) – Under a new agreement, the United States will forbid the import of many Chinese antiquities from as long ago at the early Stone Age.

Details published in the Federal Register speak of crude tools and weapons from the Paleolithic era 75,000 years ago to 7,500-year-old ceramics, jade and other jewelry to 1,000-year-old silks, tools and coins.

The pact will bar the antiquities from the United States without proof they were obtained and shipped legally. Many such objects have been stolen over the centuries from graves, tombs and other archaeological locations.

“The agreement establishes a means of cooperation to reduce the incentive for archaeological pillage and illicit trafficking in cultural objects that threaten China’s ancient heritage,” the State Department said in announcing the signing.

The pact was signed Wednesday, and the Federal Register report of it appeared Friday.

Copyright 2009 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

AP-CS-01-16-09 2055EST