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I'm Craig Childs, I'm a writer and traveler
from Western Colorado.
Craig likes to go hiking and exploring in the rough and rugged canyons
of the Southwest,
the ancient territory of the Anasazi.
But picture him just a few years ago,
standing in a reading room.
(Nowhere near the canyons)
Right, in front of a display of ancient pottery.
Inside the cabinet is a collection
of jars and bowls, that are probably 700-800 years old, and I,
and I recognize the design, and I know where they came from.
I know that they came from a part of Arizona
where I had just spent a month, backpacking.
And I found the place, just entirely looted.
and, and...
..I mean, folks had come in and removed everything they could find.
...I mean, folks had come in and removed everything they could find. CHRIS: Yeah, yeah.
Some archaeologists, but mostly pot hunters,
people illegally coming in and taking shovels, and digging out burial artifacts.
And these artifacts in this little cabinet were,
were all stolen.
They, they weren't cataloged,
and in fact they were very roughly handled.
Some had been broken and repaired with masking tape, but..
PERSON: With masking tape? CHRIS: And with glue.
PERSON: And Elmer's Glue! CHRIS: Yeah.
PERSON: And what did the sign say on the thing?
CHRIS: I think it just said these come from
CHRIS: Arizona, that was.. PERSON: So was that, uh..
CHRIS: [INAUDIBLE] percent of it. PERSON: ..just it?
CHRIS: Yeah.
PERSON: So, what did you think and then
what did you do?
CHRIS: Well, I had been very frustrated at
seeing this landscape that had been
completely looted and I thought, "you know what?
I need to take something back",
and so I, I broke into the display case.
when we do this at night or how did you how did you get by the security I just
did it when I kept an eye on the room and saw when nobody was in there and
were you dressed in black and hanging from the ceiling?
I was looking like I look now how do you did you get that glass cutter I cut
around the molding of the of the glass and removed the glass plate and reached
in and took one of the jars that have been actually split in half with a
shovel I am not a good thief I nearly pissed my pants in the middle of it and
then I rearranged all the jars and and blew on the dust so it would resettle
and look like nothing had ever changed and then and then I went down to the
Apache reservation the White Mountain Apache reservation in central Arizona
and walked for two weeks with this this on my back down through all these
canyons looking for the the right place to put it back. In one sense I was I was
pushing against the tide of all these artifacts that are coming out of the
millions and millions of objects that are disappearing from the land I was I
was putting one back in and just pushing against that but the same time I
immediately started questioning what I was doing because I thought oh you're
just doing what everybody else has done you're stealing it because you think you
know the right thing to do with it. where did you finally put it I climbed up this
is this cliff face where there was a little tiny cave alcove about the size
of a bread loaf just a little hole in a cliff and I and I slid the vessel into
it and set it back there where I I don't think people will find it for centuries
the moment at which you place it have been that little alcove you're there
your hand leaves the thing what are you thinking at that point I'm I'm thinking
if anybody else finds us they will see the masking tape and this will really
confound them
Thanks to Robert Krulwich and Jetta Boomrod from Radio Lab for helping out with this
piece. You're welcome. If you haven't yet heard the collection of Radio Lab
episodes this videos a companion to head over to radio lab org and look for the
things, skull, and kilogram episodes. There's also a short audio story I put
together while visiting the radio lab team in New York.