It's illegal to dig up arrowheads or other archaeological finds at any national park.
But In 2017, national park investigators discovered an illegal excavation taking place near Rymers Campground next to the Jacks Fork River in Ozark National Scenic Riverways park.
They found two people who had dug 164 holes over 2.5 acres to unearth arrowheads, spear points and other relics left behind by a series of Native American people who had lived along the river as far back as 11,500 years ago.
According to a park service news release, when investigators approached the couple, they fled in a pickup, eventually rolling the truck on a dirt road and fleeing the scene on foot.
The suspects eventually returned to their campsite, where rangers and investigators arrested them on the spot.
The case recently concluded with the conviction and sentencing of Shane Munroe, 41, and Christy Bruton, 45, both of nearby Birch Tree.
Munroe will serve a year in prison followed by three years of supervised probation. Bruton has been sentenced to three years of supervised probation. Both must also pay $2,000 each in restitution.
"It is wrong to take archaeological items from the park," said Dena Matteson, chief of interpretation, planning and partnerships at ONSR. "This was the first felony conviction like this at the park and the first misdemeanor conviction. We do have many archaeological sites documented in the park."
According to ONSR records, there are 550 documented archaeological sites within the park boundaries; their locations can't be revealed due to federal law protections.
Removing arrowheads, spear points or pottery shards erases the context in which they were found and lessens the ability of archaeologists to learn about those stolen finds, Matteson said.
How much damage did they do?
Fortunately, investigators were able to recover the illegally taken artifacts at the site before they were removed and lost to science forever.
"It appears this site was used by several different occupants at several different times through history," Matteson said. "Our archaeologist has surveyed it. The artifacts that were taken will be added to our collection at ONSR for the public to see."
Artifacts removed from their context include two projectile points, five projectile point fragments, 465 pieces of lithic debitage, 13 biface fragments, five cores, one scraper, three bifaces, one prehistoric pottery shard, four historic pottery shards, one historic glass fragment, 1 shell fragment and 1 tested cobble.
"When artifacts are disturbed and removed from their original context, archaeologists lose the ability to learn about the lives of past people at a particular location," Matteson said in an email. "The site affected in this case contained significant information about prehistoric and historic habitation and land use. Diagnostic artifacts including projectile point fragments, projectile points, and pottery shards recovered from the site date to the Paleoindian period, 11,500-9,900 years ago, the Late Archaic period, approximately 5,000-3,000 years ago, the Middle Woodland period, approximately 2,500-1,600 years ago, and the historic period, roughly 200 years ago through 50 years ago.
"American Indians have been using the Riverways and surrounding territories for thousands of years."
Matteson urged park visitors to never remove an artifact. Instead, if someone spots an arrowhead or spear point, they should leave it where they found it, take a photo of it and then report its location to ONSR staff at 573-323-4236.
That find could lead to a new site and add to the park's knowledge of the people who once lived along the Jacks Fork and Current rivers, Matteson said.
They weren't the only ones
During the investigation, 164 illegal excavations were located, as well as tools, artifacts and evidence of other stolen property. A resource damage assessment completed in March 2018 revealed that Munroe and Bruton caused $34,974 in damage to the archeological site, according to park investigators.
A federal grand jury handed down indictments for Munroe and Bruton in December 2018. Munroe pleaded guilty in June 2019 to a felony Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1979 violation, and Bruton pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor ARPA violation in October 2019.
ARPA was enacted to increase protection for and effectively manage archaeological resources on public lands, which are an irreplaceable part of the nation’s heritage. The National Park Service was assisted by the Missouri Highway Patrol and the U.S. Forest Service.
Report illegal digging
Park officials encourage visitors to report any suspicious digging on park property. Talk to any NPS employee for help in reporting suspicious activity, or give the Special Agents of the NPS Investigative Services Branch a call.
Call or text the Investigative Services Branch Tip Line at 888-653-0009. Or go online to www.nps.gov/ISB and click the "Submit a Tip" link.