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Tenn. floods expose graves to robbers

  |   Aug. 24, 2010 at 4:09 PM
BELLS BEND, Tenn., Aug. 24 (UPI) -- Floods in May led to an increase in the number of grave lootings along a Tennessee river bank, archaeologists said.

While grave-looting and destruction has been a decades-long problem, the floods have caused the grave boxes in burial sites along the Cumberland River bank near Bells Bend to be exposed, attracting more looters than before, The (Nashville) Tennessean reported Tuesday.

Archaeologists, American Indians and Bells Bend residents are upset grave robbers are digging up the graves and selling the artifacts, The Tennessean reported.

"The flood caused a tremendous amount of erosion, so more of the stone box (gravesites) interred there are now visible. The looters can see them, and they're taking advantage by coming in at night and systematically digging away at them," said Tom Pertierra, chief executive officer of Southeastern Paleoamerican Survey Inc., a non-profit archaeology-supporting company.

A recent project sponsored by a Tennessee Historic Commission grant in conjunction with the University of Tennessee-Knoxville, the University of Arizona, the Southeastern Paleoamerican Survey Inc. and Bells Bend Park saw 25-30 students, volunteers and archaeologists scouring the river bank searching for artifacts and finding evidence of looting, said project director David Anderson, associate head of the anthropology department at the UT-Knoxville.

Metro police spokeswoman Kristin Mumford said she didn't find any reports of looting on file but she said residents should notify police of suspicious activity.

Destroying and looting gravesites is a felony in Tennessee regardless of whether on public or private land.

Melba Checote-Eads, a Muscogee Creek Nation member from Woodbury said each time a new burial site is found the state must notify tribes.

"As long as I have lived in this state, it has been my hope to influence my tribe and others to rebury these remains with respect and dignity. It's a horrible and offensive thing for people to sneak in, take away from the dead and desecrate a grave," Checote-Eads said.

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