Note to self: If I ever decide to raid protected battlefields for historic artifacts, don’t include the plans in a “note to self.” At least not a written one.

Last year, federal park rangers busted a Virginia man for combing Civil War-era Petersburg National Battlefield (listed on the National Register of Historic Places) with a metal detector and digging up musket balls, belt buckles shrapnel and other hardware discarded during clashes more than 100 years ago.

Authorities had suspected him for some time, catching glimpses of a license plate on a suspicious truck or noticing a man standing around trying to look nonchalant or bolting and leaving behind pruning shears used for digging. They even had motion detector cameras that got pictures of him.

The guy — his name is John Santo, according to court records — kept a journal, noting dates, locations and items he unearthed. So when investigators finally caught up with him and searched his home and garage (an affair that the Progress-Index newspaper said required the bomb squad because of a potentially explosive shell), they had an inventory of his exploits. The rangers could compare their own “suspicious hole” reports with Santo’s diary.

For instance, his March 27, 2009, entry includes “run in with park ranger” along with a note that he found part of a brass fuse. The following day’s entry states “bought $6 pruner (shears) … I hunted the same area,” according to a Statement of Facts document filed in federal court in November. He also found a Confederate ball projectile that day.

In all, the government totaled the damages for disturbed ground and stolen artifacts at $37,900. They found more than 9,000 items, which are now the subject for forfeiture proceedings. In December 2011, Santo entered guilty pleas to damaging archaeological resources and depredation of government property, and sentencing will be at a later date.

By the way, his last treasure hunting entry was Dec. 21, 2010, when authorities caught him standing around 12 fresh holes with a metal detector, shears and bullets. The journal noted “caught by Park Rangers,” according to court records.

Advertisements