Artifact amnesty program ending

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A promise of amnesty has prompted Utahns to clear their attics - and their consciences.

Since May, officials in the Beehive State have received six sets of human remains, as well as pottery shards and grinding stones, under a program allowing the return - with no penalty - of anything of cultural, historical or traditional importance to American Indian tribes that was taken illegally from the Four Corners region.

A no-questions-asked policy is being followed, but some of those who have come forward have told how they discovered the items after a relative's death, according to John Fryar, a special agent with the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

"People have said, 'My husband died and I didn't know he had them,' " said Fryar, who is based in New Mexico.

Last spring, the U.S. attorneys in the Four Corners states, including Utah, announced a 90-day amnesty period to return objects. The period runs through the end of Wednesday.

After that, law-enforcement officials will resume apprehending and prosecuting looters, who face charges under the Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1979 (ARPA) and penalties of up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The amnesty applies only to items and remains belonging to tribes in Utah, Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado.

Fryar dubs the effort a success, both for the return of objects and the education received by the public.

"We've been able to answer questions about what's legal and what's not," he said. "Some knew what they had was illegal. Some said, 'I don't know why I did it. I knew it was illegal.' "

Forrest Cuch, executive director of the Utah Division of Indian Affairs, said some of the returned items were obtained before laws banning their possession went into effect.

"The owners had passed on and their relatives wanted [the items] to come back to the public," Cuch said.

He is looking into sending some objects to tribal museums and cultural centers. In addition, his agency, which is a deposit site for the remains, will work through its Native American Remains Review Committee and tribes to determine where to return bones for proper burial.

Returns in other states include:

Arizona - Several whole pots, several sets of human remains and a Hopi mask that had been missing for 45 years.

New Mexico - Pots, bowls, pottery canteens, stone artifacts, pottery shards and some human remains. Many of the bowls and pots are still whole.

Colorado - Some human remains, whole pots, mat fragments and a variety of smaller artifacts. A Denver man brought in a skull from Wyoming and asked that it be returned to the appropriate tribe, Fryar said.

He said the amnesty provides a good opportunity for people to clear a guilty conscience.

"This is their chance to make it right," Fryar said.