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RAIDERS OF LOST ART

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"And the next thing they will want is the repatriation of all private collections."

Hester claims just the presence of the bill has had a "catastrophic" impact on dealers. "It's a ripple effect throughout the art world," he says. "People hear the word `repatriation' and they are reluctant to buy, because they are not not sure of the legal status of the material they will be purchasing."

But the bottom line, say the tribes, is that these remains and objects aren't meant to be bought and sold. "There is no difference between sites 200 years old or two weeks old," Minkler says. "These are remains of deceased individuals, and what they were buried with, and they can't be somebody else's private property.

"If someone disagrees with any of these laws, I'm looking forward to seeing them tested."

THE FIRST TEST MAY COME on a deserted, scrub-covered patch of high-desert terrain in the Verde Valley nicknamed the Verde Ball Court. The forty-acre archaeological dig, owned by Hester, is likely to be the site of a showdown between the state and the tribes on one hand, and pot hunters on the other.

Hester says he returned to the Ball Court in mid-November for the first time in months. "I walked off this site when the legislation came up," he grins. "But I'm ready to come back."

He scrambles like an eager child over the mounds of dirt and around a maze of narrow trenches, his eye searching for any glint or irregularity that could signal a prize--a pottery fragment, a symmetrical pattern of stones, a sliver of bone, anything that could give a clue as to what lies below.

Suddenly, he stops and bends to scoop up a tiny off-white bone chip, the size of a toothpick. "There," Hester says. "Technically, we've discovered a burial. Now we have to go call Ray Thompson or we've committed a felony.

"Well. We will see about that."
Hester says he plans to reopen excavations at the site soon, and intends to notify the state as soon as he uncovers any burials. He will follow the letter of the law, he says, until state archaeologists or tribal members attempt to remove the remains or artifacts.

"At that point," he says, "I'll just say no."
Hester says he wants to turn the Verde Ball Court into a site where schoolchildren and amateur archaeologists can come and view the artifacts pulled from the ground and participate in the ongoing excavation. The Ball Court, he says, could produce scientific and educational gains as well as profit. Although state preservation and tribal officials may doubt his motives, Hester says he has the support to challenge the law and win.

"People out here are ready to fight this thing," he says. "I've got people ready to come out here with me, link arms and sing `We Shall Overcome.'"

One of those people is Young resident Barbara Zachariae, who helped gather hundreds of signatures on a petition opposing the bill last summer. She puts the issue in a constitutional context and warns that enforcement of the law will be difficult.

"Why should private-property rights be suspended because of the religious beliefs of the tribes that these remains need reburial?" she asks. "This is a conflict of church and state. The common good has to be truly common, not just for one religious group.

"Don't misunderstand," she says. "People in the rural areas aren't what I would call rednecks, although there are some of those. Most people out here are really just rugged individualists living a hard life. A lot of their parents and grandparents fought Indians, the elements, everything.

"And they realize that the whole story of this land--and really, of civilization--is the story of one tribe taking the land away from the other. They have it now. And they feel they can do what they want with it."

That sentiment is running so strong in communities like Young that one petition signer was overheard to say, "If anyone comes out here and tries to tell me what to do with what is on my land, I'll be waiting for them with a shotgun."

Paul Bender, an ASU College of Law professor and primary architect of the new state law, says that Zachariae's frontier interpretation of law is simplistic and overlooks a "general consensus that there is no property in human remains."

"I think we can all see there is something wrong in digging up burial sites," he says. "If I found a burial in my front yard, it would be inappropriate of me to dig up the body and take a ring off its finger. What the pot hunters are doing is no different.

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Darrin Hostetler