Looting history

Darrell
Darrell Cole
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Beaubassin becomes target of illegal excavations

Parks Canada archaeologist Clarice Valotaire works at the Beaubassin National Historic Site on Wednesday. The site of a public archaeological dig over four weekends, Beaubassin has also been targeted by looters seeking artifacts to sell on the underground market. Darrell Cole - Amherst Daily News
AMHERST - It appears as though the Beaubassin national historic site is not only popular among archaeologists.
Parks Canada, the owners of the historic site that was home to an Acadian village in the 17th and 18th century, has had to issue protection of property owners against several individuals after they were caught digging at the site in mid-July.
"The artifacts collected contribute to building the story of that village and it's really important that people don't go there and remove artifacts," Geraldine Arsenault, Parks Canada's manager of visitor experience national historic sites, said Tuesday. "We welcome people to come on to the lands, but we ask them to leave the artifacts in their place. What happens when people remove artifacts from the site we have a piece of the past that's taken away from the site and we'll never be able to recuperate it. That part of the story will never be able to be told."

Parks Canada archaeologist Clarice Valotaire works at the Beaubassin National Historic Site on Wednesday. The site of a public archaeological dig over four weekends, Beaubassin has also been targeted by looters seeking artifacts to sell on the underground market. Darrell Cole - Amherst Daily News

AMHERST - It appears as though the Beaubassin national historic site is not only popular among archaeologists.

Parks Canada, the owners of the historic site that was home to an Acadian village in the 17th and 18th century, has had to issue protection of property owners against several individuals after they were caught digging at the site in mid-July.

"The artifacts collected contribute to building the story of that village and it's really important that people don't go there and remove artifacts," Geraldine Arsenault, Parks Canada's manager of visitor experience national historic sites, said Tuesday. "We welcome people to come on to the lands, but we ask them to leave the artifacts in their place. What happens when people remove artifacts from the site we have a piece of the past that's taken away from the site and we'll never be able to recuperate it. That part of the story will never be able to be told."

Using a metal detector, the culprits allegedly dug numerous holes around the site in search of artifacts that they could later sell through the underground economy, at pawn shops or on eBay.

"People who do this probably don't know that they're ruining the historical knowledge of that village," she said. "It's really not something that's good."

It's alleged the same individuals were also caught pilfering the pioneer cemetery across the marsh at Fort Beausejour/Fort Cumberland.

Arsenault said it's illegal to do excavations or to possess a metal detector on a national historic site without proper research permits.

Parks Canada will be placing signage on the site in the coming weeks reminding people of the historical significance of Beaubassin and reminding them that it's illegal to take artifacts from the property.

The alleged pilfering of the site has local historian John McKay seeing red.

"There's no reason for it," said McKay, who has studied the history of Beaubassin for many years. "Where ever they get a hit they dig down and take whatever is there. That's history that's lost."

McKay said those who think they can dig in private are in for a surprise since there's a group of people, including neighbours, keeping an eye on the site. That's how those looting the site were caught last month.

Parks Canada's Beaubassin-Fort Lawrence Public Archaeology Experience wrapped up its third year last weekend with 420 paying participants collecting approximately 5,000 artifacts in what could be the final year for the public dig.

Overall, more than 15,000 artifacts were collected during three public digs over 44 days since 2007 including three building foundations, numerous pipe stems, needles, nails and five lead seals that indicate the village, abandoned and burned by the French in 1750, was a major trading centre.

The information collected during the public dig is cataloged and will eventually be part of an interpretive exhibit. However, the material taken by looters is lost and Parks Canada is afraid that some of what's lost could be a significant piece of the Beaubassin story.

While the public dig is done, Parks Canada officials will remain on the site for the next two weeks recording their data before concluding the 2008 portion of the project. After that, there will be little activity on the site and access will be prohibited.

If anyone sees something suspicious on the site they are asked to contact the RCMP.

dcole@amherstdaily.com

Organizations: Parks Canada, Daily News, EBay Fort Beausejour/Fort Cumberland Beaubassin-Fort Lawrence Public Archaeology Experience RCMP

Geographic location: AMHERST

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