Police search for owners of ancient artifacts found beside trail

Posted: Friday, January 18, 2002

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Police are trying to figure out how ancient artifacts, apparently from Latin America, came to be dumped alongside a snowmachine trail in Peters Creek, north of Anchorage.

Snowmachiners discovered the artifacts -- mostly pottery -- on Sunday, packed in boxes and left on the ground, among the trees.

A few pieces carried labels that identified their approximate age and origin, said Detective Kimberly Semeniuk of the Anchorage Police Department. The oldest were dated between A.D. 300 and 500, she said.

Semeniuk said although rain and snow had fallen recently in the area, the boxes were not significantly weathered, making her think they had not been there long. She thinks the items were taken during a burglary or theft and then abandoned along the trail.

Semeniuk took the pieces to the anthropology department at the University of Alaska Anchorage, where professor Robert Mack examined them.

''The anthropologist confirmed that they were legitimate historical items,'' she said.

Mack said the way some items were tagged, it appeared they belonged to a collector. Most were basic pottery, utilitarian ware, probably from northern Mexico or the southwest United States. None appeared to be native to Alaska, said Mack, who specializes in Mayan culture.

A few statuettes, probably made of cast bronze, were mixed with the items, Mack said.

Amid the plain bowls were two pieces that stood out to Mack. Ornately sculpted, both appeared to have long histories.

''They were over a 1,000 years old by my thought,'' Mack said.

According to the tags, the two items came from Peru. Mack studies in Mexico and Guatemala and is not a ceramics expert, so he said it was difficult make a positive identification.

Most countries are very strict about allowing artifacts to leave their borders, making such items difficult to collect, Mack said. Though he could not guess the worth of the items, he said price would be high because this kind of pottery is rarely offered for sale.

''Some of these things, in the world market, can be very valuable,'' Mack said.

Semeniuk thinks this value was overlooked, thus relegating the artifacts to the snow.

The packaging indicates the items may have been put in storage, where they would not be immediately missed, she said.

Police are trying to find the owner or anyone who may know whom they belong to, said police spokesman Ron McGee.

Police are asking anyone with information on this case to call Crime Stoppers at 561-7867.

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