On Removing Artifacts from a National Forest

When I was a kid, I clearly remember bringing all sorts of old cans and bottles home for my mom who collected antiques. Some were very old and valuable.

I  had a spot where I went to find arrowheads that I kept secret. What I didn’t know was that removing artifacts that are more than 100 years old is illegal in all National Forests. It’s actually a felony!

I worked for a forester a few years back and part of my job was to clearly mark areas that appeared to be historical. Wandering through very dense parts of the woods, I discovered all sorts of cool things. I found mines, graves and remnants of old homesteads that had not been seen by anyone for a long time. I marked a big A (archaeological) on trees surrounding these areas and they were reported to the Forest Service.

Over the years while exploring the woods of the Northern Sierras, I’ve discovered some amazing sites that appeared untouched for many years. It reminds me of when life was a lot tougher and a lot more wild. Unfortunately, most of the relics of those days have been removed or destroyed by treasure hunters or simply lots of human traffic.

The good news is that there are some sites that remain undisturbed. I found out that the grave marker I found had not yet been mapped by the archaeological society and that made me happy.

A few years ago I went back to the spot where I used to find arrowheads and instead of seeing evidence of an old Washoe Indian summer camp, I found vehicle tracks and beer cans.

Last summer I found an old gold mine that looked like the miners just packed up and walked away. I couldn’t believe how untouched it was. But I found it by accident and in a place where most people wouldn’t think of going. I can only imagine what it would look like if it were off a main trail.

It seems that almost all accessible areas end up with the scars of modern man, and I wonder what my kids will end up finding when they take their kids into the woods.

There’s nothing as exciting to me than finding one of these sites. The more I get off the trail, the more cool things I find. And, when you consider the rich history of the Sierra Nevada mountains, there are certainly many more treasures to be found. The key word is found, not taken or disturbed. There’s no archaeological police out there to make sure people respect history so it’s up to us to remember to “tread lightly” as they say.

Next time you’re in the woods and see all those blue marks on trees, look for an A with a circle around it. You’ve found a marked archaeological site and they’re out there—you just have to be aware.

Go look around, history is calling you. Make sure you look, explore and enjoy a peek into the past. Leave it the way you found it and maybe someone else will get the chance to appreciate what life was like back then. Imagine if everyone did this . . . a

© Pablo Hidalgo | Dreamstime.com – Old borax mine ruin in death valley national park