It seems that authorities have indicted another suspect in the increasingly complicated series of investigations into the trade in illegal antiquities in the southwest. Robert B. Knowlton of Grand Junction, Colorado has been charged with selling three artifacts illegally collected from public land to the undercover operative known as “the Source,” who apparently convinced him to mail the items to Utah from Colorado, which added a charge of interstate transportation of stolen property to the charges stemming from selling the items in the first place.
There doesn’t seem to be much information out yet about the circumstances behind this indictment, but there are a few interesting things about it. For one, this is a new guy. He wasn’t named in any of the prior charge. His connection to the earlier cases seems pretty obvious, as the Source was the informant in those as well, but charges in those cases were heavily focused on people in and around Blanding, Utah with a few suspects from Durango, Colorado and Santa Fe, New Mexico involved as well. In addition, this indictment was issued by a federal grand jury in Denver rather than the one in Salt Lake that issued the prior ones. Some vague references in earlier articles on the investigation have suggested that authorities in each of the Four Corners states have been investigating separately, with the Source being the main link among the various cases, and Utah was just the first state to move to filing charges. Subsequent revelations about searches of the homes of some artifact dealers in Santa Fe showed that New Mexico authorities have been active as well (although I don’t think they’ve filed any formal charges so far), and this indictment seems to show Colorado getting in on it too. The lack of any Arizona connection so far is interesting, and it suggests that there may just be at least one more shoe left to drop here.
Also interesting is the nature of the artifacts Knowlton is accused of selling. While one is a “cloud blower” pipe allegedly from the Big Westwater Site near Blanding, and thus part of the same late prehistoric Anasazi cultural tradition as most of the artifacts associated with the Blanding cases, the other two are Paleoindian lithics from a much earlier period: a Midland projectile point and a Hell Gap knife. I don’t know very much about Paleoindian archaeology, so hearing about this indictment led me to look into this a bit.
It turns out that Midland points are very similar to the better-known Folsom points, dating to around 9000 BC, except that they aren’t fluted, and, indeed, in an interesting but rather short article from a while back George Agogino of Eastern New Mexico University (a major center for Paleoindian archaeology, due partly to its association with Blackwater Draw) questions if the “Midland complex” defined around this type of point is really anything more than a variant of the Folsom complex. Henry Irwin and H. M. Wormington noted in a very useful article from around the same time on Paleoindian artifact assemblages that the sets of tools associated with the Midland and Folsom complexes are very similar.
As for the Hell Gap knife, Irwin and Wormington discuss it as well, noting that it is one of the few knife types to be associated with a specific cultural complex in the way that projectile points are. This is, unsurprisingly, the Hell Gap complex, defined by the use of Hell Gap projectile points, which Agogino had named in an earlier article. Although Irwin and Wormington don’t give any specific dates for the complexes they discuss beyond putting the Clovis complex around 9200 BC and the others between 9000 and 6000, Agogino gives a radiocarbon date of 8890 BC for the level in which he found the Hell Gap points, which he considers roughly contemporary with dates for Folsom levels at other sites. (I don’t know how widely accepted these dates are nowadays, but I’m going to be looking into contemporary understandings of the Paleoindian period.)
One passage from Agogino’s Midland article stood out when I was reading it:
The Folsom point type is distinct, unique, and attractive, making it easy to recognize. Today, Folsom points are among the most sought after artifacts in private collections, and their relative scarcity has prompted speculators to sell prime specimens for considerable sums.
This case seems to show the truth of this statement even forty years later, although the specific artifacts Knowlton is accused of selling don’t fit the narrow definition of “Folsom points” against which Agogino is arguing. Knowlton apparently told the Source that he bought the knife from a woman who found it near the airport in Moab, Utah and that he bought the point from a park ranger who found it near Telluride, Colorado after a fire. One thing to note about these locations is that they’re a bit far afield geographically as well as temporally from the previous cases. Although Moab isn’t too far from Canyonlands National Park, where some of the Blanding people were accused of digging, Telluride is a whole different geographical and cultural area. In addition, although Knowlton lives in Grand Junction, the sale apparently took place in Fort Collins, Colorado, which is way on the other end of the state from any of the rest of this.
The Santa Fe branch of the investigation, although still rather murky, seems to have extended it both considerably to the southeast of Blanding and into the trade in items illicitly acquired from the modern Pueblos. This Colorado indictment, on the other hand, is taking things in a very different direction: north, east, and very far backward in time.