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Archaeology, Cultural Heritage, and the Antiquities

Neil Brodie, Morag M. Kersel, Christina Luke, and Kathryn Walker Tubb

Print publication date: 2006

Print ISBN-13: 9780813029726

Published to Florida Scholarship Online: September 2011

DOI: 10.5744/florida/9780813029726.001.0001

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(p.328) Appendix C. A Practical Exercise in Criminal Investigation

(p.328) Appendix C. A Practical Exercise in Criminal Investigation

Archaeology, Cultural Heritage, and the Antiquities Trade
University Press of Florida


Students will conduct a criminal investigation of a report of digging for artifacts on [name of site] property.


Students will portray a team of crime solvers, including police officers, crime scene technicians, photographers, and archaeologists. The team will respond to the complaint of witnesses who have seen someone digging up artifacts without permission. The student team will interview the witnesses, locate the looter, interview him or her, make an arrest if necessary, and process the crime scene. The mock crime serves as a focus for discussing how citizens and public officials should respond to thefts of and vandalism to our historic resources.


  1. 1. Interpret the laws regarding historical resources and apply them to solving the case.

  2. 2. Explain the steps in conducting a criminal investigation of theft of or vandalism to historic resources.

  3. 3. Explain or define the following vocabulary:


    historic resources




    probable cause/looting

    instruments of the crime



    expert witness









    fruits of the crime

    Note: The term “historic” encompasses archaeological resources. “Historic” includes visible, above-ground monuments and structures.

Time Required

Two hours minimum

(p.329) Skills

Making observations, inferences, decisions; analyzing and problem solving; working cooperatively with a group.

Materials and Requirements

At least eleven persons are required (one police officer, one police supervisor, one photographer, four crime scene technicians, one newspaper reporter, one witness, two members of the archaeological team). If the class is larger, appoint a maximum of two police officers, one police supervisor, two photographers, four crime scene technicians, two reporters, two witnesses, and three members of the archaeological team. If the class is very large, consider having two or more identical crime scenes. Note that one suspect will be required: the suspect should not be known to the students.

  1. Small notebooks and pencils for the police, news reporters, and the archaeological team.

  2. At least 15 evidence tags, two evidence/property forms, and two offense reports.

  3. Copies of relevant laws for the police officers.

  4. Minimum of one Polaroid camera with two ten-photograph packs.

  5. Casting powder and a water supply (preferred casting powder is that used by dentists; various brands available; powder requires a mix with water to the consistency of pancake batter; need sufficient powder for two casts).

  6. Plastic resealable bags (two sizes: sandwich size for artifacts or dirt samples; gallon size for mixing casting powder and water).

  7. Index cards (3 × 5 inches) for placing next to evidence or instruments of the crime found at the scene.

  8. Marking pens to mark index cards.

  9. Approximately 20 envelopes (9 × 12 inches) for evidence. Plastic bags can be used for evidence that is wet or messy.

  10. Crime scene technician tools: two tape measures, two rulers (for scale in photographs), graph paper for a crime scene diagram.

  11. Copy of a relic price guide.

  12. Sufficient role-play instructions for each function.

  13. Peel-off stickers to label the newspaper reporters, photographers, crime scene technicians, and witnesses. The police officers and their supervisor may wear badges, if available. It is helpful for the police officers to wear a tag that identifies them as such.

  14. Small artifacts appropriate to the site (e.g., coins, Civil War bullets, broken ceramics, pipe stems, and bottles).

  15. (p.330) Looter debris: empty soda cans, empty cigarette packs.

  16. Optional: a “No relic hunting” sign to post in the vicinity.


Arrange for the suspect to set up the illegal dig. Park the car nearby. The suspect should be unknown to students and should be kept out of view of students until the exercise begins. When caught, the suspect will not deny any digging for artifacts but will argue that he or she had permission to dig. The suspect will not be obstinate or uncooperative but will not volunteer any information.

The looter will be digging with a shovel, and by the time of his or her discovery by police, the looter should have dug a few small holes. The crime scene will be littered with some debris in the form of soda cans and cigarette butts. The looter will have retrieved some artifacts and placed them next to the holes or at some other nearby location.

The looter's car will be nearby, unlocked. A relic price guide will be on a seat, some soda cans on the floor (same brand as the soda cans at the site). The student/officers may or may not discover the car and recognize that it is part of the crime scene.

Police officers will watch the looter digging just long enough to establish that a crime is being committed.

On the assumption that this program is presented in conjunction with an archaeology lab exercise, course, or field study, without providing much in the way of background circumstances, inform students that a crime has been committed that involves artifacts.

State that the excavation site/historic property has received information that a looter is on the premises and is seeking artifacts. The looter has no permission to enter the property to obtain artifacts.

Briefly state that looting occurs on properties with historic resources and that it occurs for many reasons, including private consumption or commercial interest. Tell students that criminal acts have been committed when artifacts are removed from the historic property without permission.

Instruct students that their help is needed to investigate possible criminal acts. Explain that the matter will be investigated using the same techniques as in a real criminal investigation.

Ask for volunteers to assume the roles of police officers, a police supervisor, witnesses, photographers, crime scene technicians, an archaeological team, and news reporters. Once roles have been assigned, allow participants a few minutes to read them and ask questions.

(p.331) After students have absorbed their roles, send the witnesses to a suitable vantage from which to observe the looting.

Assemble the police team (officers, supervisor, technicians, and photographer) and archaeological team and give them the equipment they will need to perform all tasks. Brief them that the police have received a call from the staff at the [historic property or archaeological site]. The staff members report that they have seen a person digging without permission on their property. The person may be digging up artifacts. The looting is in progress and staff members (witnesses) are observing the crime.

Students will gather their equipment and notebooks and walk out to meet the witnesses. The student police officers will interview the witnesses and take statements and proceed to the looting scene and observe at a distance. When appropriate, the officers will confront, interview, and possibly arrest the suspect. The rest of the team will process the crime scene. The crime scene technicians and photographers stand by until the police request them. Reporters may roam around at will to try to elicit information for their news story. The officers may learn that the reporters' movement may need to be restricted; the crime scene must be uncontaminated for processing.

The instructor must ensure that the police officers intervene as soon as possible to stop the digging. Even before the officers question the looter in detail, the crime scene technicians and photographer must be deployed to begin their work.

The crime scene technicians must begin processing the scene immediately. Many tasks must be performed: evidence and tools of the crime must be located and photographed; casts must be taken. If possible, take one cast of a footprint, another of a hole. The casts must be prepared and poured as soon as possible because they require about a half hour to harden.

The archaeological team must immediately collect information on the nature and history of the site. They may interview site staff members for relevant information. The instructor may notice the students becoming so preoccupied with their roles that they sometimes miss the larger picture: the looter may try to cover up holes once the police are at the scene, or the reporters or archaeological team may walk back and forth over the site before it has been processed. The crime scene technicians and the police may need reminding that the crime scene must be left intact until everything relevant has been identified, measured, and photographed. Only after these functions have been performed may the evidence be removed, tagged, and bagged.

The newspaper reporters may become a nuisance for the officers. Officers have a legal right to restrict the reporters' access to the crime scene while it is being processed.

(p.332) The larger the group of students, the more likely that some will not apply themselves to the exercise or may not have enough to do. Students need to be meticulous with crime scene assignments; have them cross-check each other's work.

Following the field exercise, students will reconvene in the classroom and discuss the experience.

Topics for Discussion

  1. Have each actor explain his or her role.

  2. Review the case: read aloud the offense report. Ask the class the purpose of a police investigation (answer: to support a prosecution). Review the laws: does the report show evidence of wrongdoing?

  3. Review the process: officers observe the offense, interview witnesses, and accost the suspect. The crime scene technicians and the photographer must document the crime scene and take evidence. Review the evidence for discussion by the class. Show the Polaroid photographs and the casts and evidence. Ask students why the processing had to be so meticulous (answer: to reconstruct the scene in court).

Thank all participants. Collect all equipment.

Discussion Questions

  1. 1. Are the laws about looting and vandalism fair? Do they serve the purpose of helping to preserve the past? Is there a difference between local, state, and federal laws respecting archaeological resources?

  2. 2. What happens when a person is charged with breaking the laws regarding archaeological resources?

  3. 3. What did you learn in playing your role? Was it hard to perform?

  4. 4. How difficult were the laws to interpret?

  5. 5. How did you feel about this case? In your opinion, was it right to charge the suspect with a crime?

  6. 6. Compare what archaeologists do to tell the story of the past with what law enforcement officers do to tell the story of a crime scene. Differences and similarities?

  7. 7. Archaeologists use the terms “artifact” or “antiquity” when discussing the material evidence of the past. Collectors and looters use terms such as “relic.” Do these terms reflect different assumptions and perspectives on the part of collectors, looters, archaeologists, and the criminal justice system?

  8. (p.333) 8. In looting cases, archaeologists and law enforcement officers must focus on the monetary value of artifacts and on the cost to repair a damaged site. In archaeological excavations, however, monetary value is irrelevant: of concern is the information gleaned from the excavation. Discuss the implications of attaching monetary value to artifacts.


Course notes. Archaeological Resources Protection Act Training Program, Federal Law Enforcement Training Academy, Glynco, Georgia, n.d.

Model lessons from the journal Archaeology and Public Education, 1995–2005.

National Park Foundation. Silent Witness: Protecting American Indian Archaeological Heritage (learning guide). Washington, D.C., n.d.

Schermer, Shirley J. Discovery Archaeology: An Activity Guide for Educators. Special Publication, Office of the State Archaeologist. Iowa City: University of Iowa, 1992.

Background Sheet: Police

Your job is to look into suspicious happenings and determine if a crime has been committed. As you look into this case, ask yourself: have any laws been violated? What are they?

Here is a checklist of what to do:

  1. 1. Find the witnesses or the people complaining. Find out what they saw or heard. Take notes.

  2. 2. Go to the scene of the possible crime and observe what is going on.

  3. 3. If you see a suspect, watch the person carefully, then go up to the suspect and ask questions.

  4. 4. Ask what the suspect is doing. Look around you very carefully: note what the suspect is wearing. Is a crime being committed? Does the suspect have permission to be there?

  5. 5. Walk up to the suspect. If you think the suspect might be dangerous, you can pat down the person's outer clothing for anything that feels as if it may be a weapon. You can remove the thing only if it may be a weapon. Here are some questions to ask:

    • Who are you?
    • Do you have any identification?
    • Why are you here?
    • Do you have permission to dig here?
    • Have you hunted relics here before?

  6. (p.334) 6. If you think you have enough information to charge the suspect with a crime, read the person his or her rights before proceeding with questioning. Here are the rights:

    You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can be used against you in court. If you want a lawyer to help you before or during questioning, tell us now. Do you understand these rights? Now that you understand them, will you answer my questions?

  7. 7. If the suspect will not answer after you have read the rights, do not ask further questions. If the suspect does answer, continue questioning the person. The suspect can stop answering questions at any time.

  8. 8. If you need to make an arrest, tell the suspect that he or she is under arrest and say why. Then make sure that you take careful notes about everything that has happened, and make sure that your assistants collect evidence and map and photograph the crime scene.

Background Sheet: Police Supervisor

Your job as the police supervisor is to manage the entire investigation. You will put together the case file on this incident. Collect all evidence once the technicians have gathered it, and collect and assemble in a folder all of the reports. Make sure that the reports you receive are complete.

Instruct the police that they are to write an offense report, collect the evidence and evidence reports, and present them to you for review. Remember, any report must answer the questions: Who? What? When? Where? Why?

Check to see that every piece of evidence taken has been documented. Each piece of evidence should be labeled to show who found and packaged it and the date and time. Each piece of evidence should be marked on the crime scene map.

You should have:

  1. photos

  2. crime scene diagram

  3. police report

  4. archaeological damage assessment

  5. evidence

Background Sheet: Witnesses

You are the managers of the historic/archaeological site. One of your visitors told you of seeing someone digging holes on the property. The person appeared (p.335) to be digging for relics. You go outside and observe the person digging several shallow holes and picking things out of them, but the activity is too far away for you to tell what kinds of things are being dug up. You call the police, and when the police team arrives, you show them where the suspect is. The suspect is still digging.

You are the experts on the historic/archaeological site. Be able to tell the police why the site is important and what is preserved there.

Background Sheet: Photographers

You are part of the police crime team that investigates looting cases. Your job is to take Polaroid photographs of the crime scene. Be sure to label each photograph you take with the date, the time you took the photograph, and your signature.

The officers will need the following photographs:

  1. 1. Show the suspect committing the crime, if possible.

  2. 2. A wide shot showing the entire crime scene.

  3. 3. Close-ups of the crime scene, including any evidence (artifacts; digging equipment or any other tools used to commit the crime; anything left behind by the suspect).

Background Sheet: Crime Scene Technicians

At least four crime scene technicians may be needed, divided into two teams. Do not move anything until it has been documented, measured, and photographed. (This is the universal rule of processing a crime scene). Carefully note any evidence at the crime scene. Evidence is anything that pertains to the crime.

First Team/First Technician

The first team will take plaster casts of shovel impressions in the dirt or footprints for later study in a laboratory. Take two casts, one of a footprint, the other of a shovel impression (a hole). Do not prepare too much casting material: put about two cups of powder in a plastic bag and slowly add water and knead the bag until you have pancake batter. This will do for a footprint. Mix a little more for the shovel impression. When the plaster begins to harden after you have poured it, scratch into it your initials and the date. Also take some dirt samples for lab analysis: if dirt is stuck to digging tools used by the suspect, cover them with plastic or paper so that the dirt can be removed in the lab. Take small samples of dirt from the crime scene, particularly from the holes dug, and put the dirt in baggies and label them.

(p.336) Second Team/Second Technician

Your job is carefully marking and measuring every feature of the crime scene: the locations of any holes dug by the suspect, any evidence on the ground, and the relationship of the crime scene to a river, nearby road, building, or other fixture so that the judge and jury in court will know exactly what happened. Make a map of the crime scene and label on the map each hole, artifact, or anything else at the crime scene.

If one team finishes before the other, then help other crime scene technicians who are still working. Remember, each piece of evidence (artifact, dirt, tool used by the looter) must be bagged and tagged. Each tag must clearly show the name of the person who found and processed it.

Members of the archaeological team may assist in taking measurements only if necessary.

Background Sheet: Archaeological Team

You are professional archaeologists who must write a damage assessment at the crime scene. Write a paragraph report on the site that has been looted or damaged. In your report:

  1. 1. Write down what you did in helping the police. Write down the date and time that you performed your work.

  2. 2. Describe the historic/archaeological site and why it is important. You may have to interview site staff to obtain this information.

  3. 3. Estimate how much it will cost to repair the site and put this information in your report.

  4. 4. Estimate the value in dollars of any artifacts taken or destroyed. If you can, estimate the cost of doing a professional archaeological excavation of the crime scene. Write down what information a professional excavation might produce.

Background Sheet: News Media

Someone who listened to a police radio called to tell you about the possible looting at the archaeological/historic site. You work for the local newspaper as reporters. You go to the archaeological site and conduct interviews to write your story.

Your job is to get a story. The police, though, have a legal right to restrict some of your activities at the crime scene.

(p.337) Background Sheet: Looter

You are a machinist who has had a long-standing interest in relic collecting. You developed an interest in the Civil War some years ago and have broadened your knowledge by reading and visiting museums and relic shows. You have a metal detector and have visited some campsites to look for uniform paraphernalia or weapons. You have found some buttons, coins, and uniform badges. Your collecting interest has extended into other areas such as prehistoric Native American items. You have sometimes asked for permission to dig on private property, but not always. Today, you are digging for some relics on private, historic property where you have found a few items in recent years. You are in a remote area of the historic property, and you do not feel that you are disturbing anyone. You have dug a few holes and have found some objects, but you feel that you can take them because their commercial value is rather low. You believe that if you do not recover objects that you have learned to appreciate, then the objects will disappear and not be appreciated. Also, you intend to fill in the holes before you leave. You have not been stopped by law enforcement officers in the past for relic hunting. You are generally cooperative with law enforcement, but at the same time you do not wish to disclose all of your activities.

Background Sheet: the Laws

Very short versions of the real laws are given to police team, archaeological team, and reporters. Here is a summary of state and federal laws about theft and vandalism.

Crimes Under State Law

  1. 1. Entering private property without the permission of the property owner or remaining after the owner has told you to leave.

  2. 2. Damaging or destroying property belonging to another.

  3. 3. Taking property belonging to another without the owner's permission (theft).

  4. 4. Disturbing, destroying, or displacing any human burial or any human body part without permission of the state archaeologist. The burial can be on private or public property.

  5. 5. Disturbing, destroying, or defacing any monument or tombstone in a cemetery.

(p.338) Crimes Under Federal Law

  1. 1. Taking (or destroying), digging up, or defacing any artifact or feature on federally owned or controlled property without a permit. The artifact or feature must be at least one hundred years old and must have archaeological interest.

  2. 2. Selling, purchasing, or transporting for sale any Native American human remains or other artifacts, when you have no legal ownership or control over the remains or artifacts.

Offense Report

Case #: _______________

Victim: ______________

Phone number: ___________

Address: ____________

Location of incident: __________

Reported by: _______________

Phone number: _____________

Address: ______________

Suspect Information

Name: _______________

Address: ______________

Race: _______________

Sex: ________________

Male ________ Female ________

Date of birth: _____________

Offenses (list):

  1. #1: _______________

  2. #2: _______________

  3. #3: _______________

  4. #4: _______________

Suspect charged: yes ________ no ________

(If additional suspects, describe on reverse.)

Vehicle involved: Victim's _____ Suspect's __________

(p.339) Description (year/make/model/color):


If property/evidence was recovered, is an evidence recovery form attached?




Officers reporting: ________________

Date: __________________

Supervisor: _______________

Date: __________________

Case #: Evidence Recovery Log

Date: __________________

Time: __________________

Offense(s): ________________

Victim: __________________

Evidence recovered by: ________________

Supervisor: __________________

Item Description Location Found Container*

  1. 1 ____________________

  2. 2 ____________________

  3. 3 ____________________

  4. 4 ____________________

  5. 5 ____________________

  6. 6 ____________________

  7. 7 ____________________

(p.340) Evidence Tags

Make as many copies as necessary.

Type of offense: ________________

Item number: ________________

Description of item: ________________

Date/Time Found: ________________

Where Found: ________________

Officer/Technician: ________________


* Enter E for envelope, P for plastic bag, and C for plaster cast.

Note: Label each bag or envelope with (1) case number, (2) item number, (3) description of item, (4) date/time found, and (5) officer's signature. For casts, as they dry, etch into each one (1) date, (2) time, (3) item number, and (4) officer's name.