5 Stolen Ancient Artifacts That Carried Curses

Science has little room for superstition and magic. Throughout history, no magical solution has ever been found to a scientific question, while the reverse happens, well, constantly.

Except perhaps for the field of archaeology. Even the most sober archaeologist may tell you that some ancient relics and artifacts seem to have a decidedly non-scientific ability to object vehemently to being stolen.

5 Rocks From Gettysburg Battlefield06


Like the site at Pompeii, Gettysburg park receives dozens of packages every year containing twigs, rocks, and other mementos pilfered from the site, all containing letters lamenting a curse. One letter writer endured an on-the-job injury, multiple surgeries, and a failed relationship. Another lost his wife, son, and house before going to prison for nine years. The park’s rangers gently remind visitors that, no matter how much you might like to take home a little piece of history, those pieces are better left right where they are.

4Virginia City Cemetery Headstones


Built in 1867 to alleviate the problem of corpses being buried randomly about town, the cemetery at the old Nevada mining town of Virginia City has seen many of its headstones go missing since it was reopened as a historical site in 2000—only to then see them be returned en masse. Grounds manager Candace Wheeler decided to contact the thieves to see why they had stolen the headstones. Without exception, they were being used for totally mundane things—doorstops, garden decorations—until the misfortunes started rolling in, ranging from financial woes to divorce and death. Thieves were anxious to know the headstones had been returned to their proper respective graves, hoping this would reverse the curse.

3Native American Artifacts Of Blanding


From its founding in 1905 by Mormon settlers, the small town of Blanding, Utah, has become known for its abundance of Anasazi artifacts. As a boy in the 1950s, local archaeologist Winston Hurst could find pottery shards, arrowheads, and all manner of relics simply lying on the ground; by the 1960s, however, residents had taken to digging deeper, sometimes with heavy machinery treasure. Hurst began to see this as looting and desecration and fell out with his friends, who remained avid personal collectors (and resellers) of these artifacts. An FBI raid in 1986 seized over 900 artifacts illegally taken from public land. This slowed the collecting but not the selling, especially once the Internet came into play. Then, in 2009, 150 FBI agents descended on the tiny town. Some of the most prominent citizens were arrested for dealing in stolen antiquities, including the brother of the sheriff and local doctor Jim Redd—who, as a childhood friend of Hurst, would accompany him on those collecting expeditions of decades past. Redd committed suicide the next day, and two others involved with the case followed suit within months.

2The Vigango


The Gohu are an ancient all-male society within a Kenyan tribe. Skilled carvers produce intricate pieces carved from hardwood known as Vigango. These not only honor the dead of the tribe but are believed to actually embody the spirit of the deceased. Vigango are prized by Westerners as art, and stolen works can fetch a very high price. But the curse of the Vigango befalls not the thieves but the tribe.Vigango must be regularly maintained with sacrifice and libations and must never be removed from where they are erected. An anthropology researcher visiting the tribe in 1999 found that several statues had gone missing and were blamed for a years-long drought and the unexpected deaths of some tribe members. After several years of legal wrangling, the pieces were returned to a museum in Kenya, which handed them over to the Gohu secured in metal cages to ensure that they are not stolen again.

1Petrified Forest Rocks


At Arizona’s Petrified Forest National Park, the temptation to pocket souvenirs most be particularly great because they are everywhere. One giant pile is known to rangers as the “conscience pile,” all returned by thieves over the years. A pair of writers discovered at least 1,200 letters accompanying the returns, dating back to 1934. They collected around 50 of the most incredible into a book, from those whose conscience suddenly wouldn’t leave them alone to others that . . . well, just take a read:“Upon returning home we first found out that my stepmother had kidney failure, then our dog died . . . I had a really close call in having a bad auto accident, our truck broke down needing major repairs, our cat died and last night . . . A gas well blew out a cap causing us to be evacuated from our home a while. So please take these pieces back before we have any more bad luck . . . ”

Apparently Roman, Maori, Egyptian and Native curses have nothing on very, very old trees.