The Arizona Republic
Nov. 12, 2006 12:05 AM In May of 2000, a student working at the Kinnikinick archaeological site in Coconino National Forest heard the clank of metal tools against rock and noticed a pair of ATVs concealed in the bushes.
The student contacted law officers who arrived to find John D. Price and Tony Mascher packing up to leave their backcountry camp. The two men were detained. During a search of their homes, investigators found artifacts and videotape from other archaeological digs. There was film of the suspects blasting away with automatic weapons, and pictures of a swastika carved into a tree.
Investigators noticed empty fruit tins at Kinnikinick. Identical trash was discovered at digs on the Fort Apache reservation, where Price and Mascher had recently obtained permits to be on the land. A review of videotapes confirmed the dig locations.
Price, a Yavapai County Sheriff’s deputy, had spent 23 years in law enforcement. The arrest ended his career, as well as that of Mascher, a fellow deputy. They pleaded guilty to violating the Achaeological Resource Protection Act.
Yet, to hear Price’s version, the whole thing was overblown. “I admit I’m not an angel in this,” he says. “I did some things wrong . . . (But) it was a witch hunt . . . I’ve never profited from anything to do with Indian artifacts, period.”
Price says he was fascinated with the Hohokam and Anazazi, and loved the thrill of discovering 1,200-year-old objects.
But he insists that the two deputies were not digging at Kinnikinick. He says the so-called swastika was an Anazazi symbol representing the four directions. He claims the weapons weren’t fully automatic.
Why, then, did he admit guilt, serve a three-month prison sentence and pay $6,700 in penalties?
“You’re taking on the strongest government in the world. You can’t win,” Price says. “I sucked down my pride. I did whatever I needed to do to get on with my life.”
Yet, six years later, Price is still fighting that government – facing $55,000 in civil penalties for digging on Apache lands.
Now a roofing contractor in Paulden, Price says he’s given up archaeology entirely: “The government has made it so I have no interest at all.”