An investigation by Special Agents of the National Park Service Investigative Services Branch (ISB) has resulted in a prison term for a man who trafficked prehistoric artifacts looted from public lands. Gary Womack, age 60, was recently sentenced to serve 15 months imprisonment for three felony violations of the Archeological Resources Protection Act (ARPA).
Court records show that Womack bought approximately 30 artifacts illegally removed from a Hopewell culture burial mound in Indiana. Such mounds are sacred spaces built by American Indians almost 2,000 years ago. Hopewellian people gathered at earthwork complexes for feasts, funerals, and rites of passage.
Womack also trafficked artifacts from American Indian burial sites in Kentucky and the Ohio and Mississippi rivers. He was implicated in the trafficking of artifacts from Channel Islands National Park, Lake Mead National Recreation Area, and other public lands in Arizona and New Mexico. The cultural artifacts included prehistoric chert blades, stone tools, ancient ceramic pots, and a ladle.
During the sentencing hearing, the federal judge told Womack that he was disturbed that Womack had chosen to dig the graves of the ancestors of American Indians for profit, and had done so while being well aware of the laws he had chosen to violate.
“The remains that are within the soils of our original homelands contain the hallowed remains of human beings, our ancestors,” stated Second Chief Ben Barnes of the Miami, Oklahoma Shawnee Tribe in a letter presented during the hearing. “We would urge the court to send a message… that ARPA violators will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
ISB Special Agents from across the National Park System conducted the three-year investigation with assistance from the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) Bowling Green Resident Agency, and prepared the case for prosecution by the US Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Kentucky. Womack pleaded guilty to the charges in March 2018.