Native peoples had been coming to the Uintah Basin for thousands of years, hunting game, gathering wild plants and seeking shelter in the numerous sandstone alcoves overlooking streams. They chipped tools from stone, weaved baskets and fashioned clothing from hides.
Ceramics, horticulture and villages eventually became part of an increasingly complex lifestyle. But death was also a part of prehistoric life, and children were particularly susceptible.Archaeologists say that sometime about 650 A.D., grieving Fremont Indian parents wrapped their deceased infant in a hide blanket, strapped him to a cradleboard and carried him to a large alcove. Prayers were probably offered, and the tiny body was tucked upright into a crack formed when several large sandstone blocks fell from the roof of the alcove.
Those prehistoric parents could not have perceived that in 1,300 years, their child would be ripped from that final resting place by artifact looters looking for ghoulish trophies for their mantle. Nor would they understand how their child would speak from the grave to federal investigators, who are now prosecuting two Uinta Basin residents for grave robbing.
On Thursday, federal prosecutors announced the indicments of two Utahns and two New Mexico residents accused of desecrating Anasazi and Fremont burial sites in remote areas of Utah.
Vernal residents Wilma Jeane Brooks, 34, and Ricky Edward Brooks, 40, have been charged with excavating the body of a Fremont Indian infant from a cave in the Red Fleet Reservoir area in June. The couple is accused of taking the partially mummified remains back to Vernal.
The two were arrested Wednesday night in Vernal by federal agents and were to be arraigned in federal court Thursday.
In the second case, a student and an instuctor from Sante Fe College, New Mexico, are accused of excavating and taking a skull of an Anasazi child from the Pine Canyon wilderness area in April last year. Student Carl A. Hulan and instructor Paul L. Riggins had been issued a summons to appear in Federal County at a later date to answer to the charges. The indicments reflect a promise prosecutors made to the public several months ago to crack down on illegal excavating of historic sites, said U.S. Attorney David Jordan.
Federal prosecutors have decided not to charge Sante Fe College with a crime. After negotiations with federal authorities, college officials agreed the school would pay a civil fine and host an educational conference for other schools on the importance of preserving archaeological sites.
The mummified remains of the Fremont infant, which the Vernal couple is accused of excavating, is the first known discovery of its kind in the Uintah Basin. The infant - which is still mounted on its cradle board - is approxiamtely 1,250 years old and one of only a few prehistoric infants found throughout the entire area.
The case has disturbed members of the Uintah-Ouray Ute Tribe. In a letter to assistant U.S. Attorney Wayne Dance, Ute tribal elder Clifford H. Duncan said: "It deeply disturbs us when a grave is disturbed for the mere purpose of exploration or exploitation, whether it be for monetary reasons or scientific purposes. The very existence of these burials, whether they be Fremont or Ute, is our foundation and the interlocking of our spiritual being with our Mother Earth, and the universe to the spiritual world."
Federal investigators recovered the prehistoric remains in June 1992 after serving a search warrant on a Vernal business. The body, still strapped to a cradleboard, had been stuffed into a garbage bag and placed in a cardboard box found in Simper's possession, according to court records.
Investigative documents state the suspects in the investigation led authorities to an alcove overlooking Red Fleet Reservoir, just north of Vernal, where additional pieces of hide and sticks believed to be part of the cradleboard were recovered. Ten additional human bones were recovered, all belonging to an infant.
Experts subsequently studied the extremely rare infant remains in microscopic detail. Bone remains were analyzed, genetic studies were done on the DNA from bone and skin tissue, weaving techniques used in cradleboard construction were examined, soils were examined with electron microscopy and samples of wood and hide were radiocarbon dated to between 619 A.D. and 894 A.D.
Investigators are calling the scientific examination the most thorough ever conducted in connection with an ARPA prosecution, and add there can be no doubt the prehistoric infant burial was removed from the alcove on federal lands.