A Bountiful man has been charged with digging a trench 2 feet wide and 15 feet deep through a “one-of-a-kind” archeological site while hunting for treasure in Washington County.

The Washington County Sheriff’s Office received a tip on Nov. 7, 2023, about someone disturbing archaeologically significant protected land in the Fort Pearce Wash area, 12 miles southeast of St. George. Eduardo Humberto Seoane, 51, was observed digging at the site on Nov. 29, 2023, and admitted digging the hole during an interview with law enforcement on Dec. 14, according to a probable cause statement.

Seoane faces a second-degree felony charge of conducting illegal activity on trust lands where the damage was equal to or greater than $5,000, filed by the Washington County Attorney’s Office on Tuesday. Seoane is now waiting for a date to be established for his initial appearance in Utah’s 5th District Court. The initial estimate to fill the hole is $18,769, police said.

Seoane said he dug the trench while prospecting for minerals, according to Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration special investigator Brent Kasza.

“I found nothing during my investigation to confirm the suspect was prospecting for silver or any kind of valuable metal,” Kasza said in a statement. “I was able to uncover that the suspect belongs to several treasure hunting groups.”

The land that Seoane is accused of digging the tunnel on is protected by the Trust Lands Administration because it’s a site of archeological importance, with its most well-known feature being a collection of over 100 petroglyphs that archaeologists believe date back to 500 years ago or more.

“It’s almost impossible to calculate the damage caused by this guy,” Trust Lands Administration lead archaeologist Joel Boomgarden said in the press release. “It is important for people to remember that the archaeological record of Utah is a finite resource. Nobody is making 1,000-year-old ancestral Puebloan sites anymore. Once they are gone, there is no going back.”

Boomgarden explained to KSL that Seoane is accused of digging directly underneath a petroglyph, speculating that the man may have mistaken the petroglyph as some sort of map or sign to begin the illegal excavation, which is not uncommon in cases like these. To Boomgarden’s understanding, Seoane appeared to have been working on the hole for at least a week before being caught by the authorities, who said they discovered the man hard at work actively digging the hole with power tools and hand tools.

Boomgarden fears that the illegal excavation has disrupted archeological evidence that would help archaeologists better identify the full history of human occupancy in the region, where some petroglyphs and temporally sensitive artifacts seem to hint at hosting human activity going as far back as 1000 B.C.

Even worse, Boomgarden said, the tunnel was dug directly on what he identified as the site’s “prehistoric trash dump.”

“As you can imagine, as with any trash dump, there’s a lot of information in the trash dump,” Boomgraden said, explaining that the illegal excavation potentially severely disrupted archaeologists’ ability to collect data and artifacts from the site.

Details like what prehistoric people ate, what their pottery and art looked like, and what materials they used to craft their tools are now in danger of being permanently lost because the sedimentary layers have been disrupted as a result of the hole that was dug.

“What he’s done is he’s dug his hole straight through the trash dump and disturbed those deposits so that they are no longer stratified, no longer in order,” Boomgarden said of the allegations against Seoane, commenting on how the digging of the hole interrupted the ability to collect useful chronological information from that trash dump.

“All the information is sort of out of context now,” he continued. “It’s almost impossible to piece it back together.”