Protecting our treasure: TVA works to keep thieves at bay - WAFF-TV: News, Weather and Sports for Huntsville, AL

Protecting our treasure: TVA works to keep thieves at bay

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Many people are being charged for what's being called a modern-day form of Native American grave-robbing. Many people are being charged for what's being called a modern-day form of Native American grave-robbing.
FLORENCE, AL (WAFF) -

Many people are being charged for what's being called a modern-day form of Native American grave-robbing.

North Alabama has a very rich Native American heritage. Unfortunately, this rich heritage has attracted thieves trying to get rich.

People are stealing and selling artifacts they find in and along the Tennessee River.

"Disappointed in people, how they think that's okay," said Joe Isaac, a Native American.

"I tell everyone who finds something to leave it alone," added Terry McGee, also Native American.

That advice is echoed, a little more forcefully, by TVA Senior Investigator Steve Fisher.

"We have a duty, a responsibility to protect that. TVA takes that seriously," he said.

The Tennessee River and its banks are TVA property. According to the Archeological Resource Protection Act, you can't dig up those artifacts, which a lot of people might not realize.

"Ignorance of the law is never a defense," said Fisher.

TVA strictly enforces the law, sending out agents undercover into what Fisher calls a "culture of people" who collect, buy, and sell these artifacts.

Amazingly, some even dig up bones - the actual human remains of Native Americans.

Fisher said TVA works very closely with local agencies as well as residents to catch the crooks.

"These folks don't come out on weekends. They do their deeds on weekends, sometimes after a rain," he said.

One of the hot spots, according to locals, is Seven Mile Island in Florence.

"Before TVA constructed the dam on the Tennessee River, this area here, from bank to bank, was dry land," said Lt. Tim Anerton with the Florence Fire Department.

He said it was used as campsites for Native Americans.

At some spots, the water is only six feet deep, with burial mounds and artifacts underneath. That's why people will actually come here to dig and dive for those illegal buried treasures.

When it rains and the water level rises, it brings some of those artifacts to the surface.

TVA has placed some large rocks along the banks to try and curb any illegal excavations, but the sad truth is the people who are trying to make a fast buck are taking invaluable pieces in the historical link to our past.

"When you take something from where it was found, then you lose all connections of that piece of where it came from," McGee said.

A piece of a puzzle, and piece of a proud heritage, that's lost forever.

A first offense can result in fines and probation. A second offense could bring a five year prison sentence and a $250,000 fine.

This law applies to all artifacts over 100 years old. That includes Native American as well as Civil War relics.

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