After Theft, Big Bend Rangers Work to Return Mexican Artifacts

A Rockport man smuggled  hundreds of Mexican archeological artifacts into the U.S., via Big Bend National Park. Now, park officials hope to minimize the damage.

By Michael MarksMarch 10, 2017 12:29 pm

In February, Andrew Kowalik of Rockport was sentenced to five years of supervised home confinement for attempting to smuggle hundreds of archeological artifacts from Mexico through Big Bend National Park in 2016. Kowalik won’t be able to leave the U.S. or enter a national park during that time.

Big Bend National Park is working with Mexican officials to return the artifacts.

Lisa Hendy, the chief ranger for visitor and resource protection, says that the artifacts are mostly stone and include arrowheads, knives and scrapers. “Some of them were probably used for ceremonial purposes,” she says.

Hendy sheds light on the significance of this smuggling attempt.

On why these artifacts are so important:

“They’re a piece of Mexico’s history and they’re a piece of human history. Taken out of context as they were, they don’t provide the full story and it essentially robs both Mexico and all of the rest of us of the knowledge that they would have provided had they remained in place.”

On what happens once the artifacts make it to Mexico:

“It is unlikely they’d ever be put back where they were actually located. First you would have to not only locate the region that they came from but the actual specific site, and it’s unlikely they will be able to do so because at this point [the artifacts] have been taken so far out of context. They will probably end up in a curatorial capacity as an exhibit or hopefully as something that can be used to educate the public in the future.”

On the common motive behind artifact smuggling:

“As many types of crimes, the common motive is money. There is a market for all kinds of artifacts and natural resources and animal parts all over the world. The U.S. is a market country unfortunately for all sorts of things that are being taken out of source countries like Mexico and brought to the U.S. and sold to collectors.”

On the importance of solving these types of crimes:

“It’s part of the National Park Service’s mission [to preserve natural and cultural resources.]… The cultural impact of this entire area was there long before there was a boundary.”

Written by Molly Smith.