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Three arrested for stealing artifacts

Three people were arrested in Hays County last month for illegally digging up Native American artifacts
and at least one is thought to be part of an investigation by the Bureau of Land Management into antiquities theft and sale.

Native American remains and “sacred burial beads” were among artifacts stolen from a San Marcos area burial site and later sold.

A married couple from San Marcos, Joshua and Amy Chovanec, were arrested March 13 at the site and charged with trespassing and violation of the Antiquities Code. Joshua Chovanec was also charged with harassing a public servant as well as drug possession and evidence tampering.

The couple was found to be in possession of an unspecified number and type of artifacts. A game warden at the scene said both people were “in a large hole previously dug by trespassers.” Police also seized a Baby Yoda glass pipe containing residue thought to be methamphetamine.

The day after those arrests, Jacob Oliver Haerle, 38, of Corpus Christi, turned himself in after learning a warrant had been issued for his arrest. He was charged with two counts of criminal trespass and two of entry without consent, all Class B Misdemeanors.

Haerle was identified through game cameras posted on a Buda area property where the landowner suspected wrongdoing after finding “substantial damage” had been done “consistent with the removal of Native American objects commonly known as arrowheads/chert.”

The first set of images was captured on March 20, 2019 and the second set on April 16 of last year. Both showed the same individual with features including distinctive tattoos and wearing a “headlamp flashlight.” He had with him a pickaxe and other tools.

The images were viewed by an agent of the Bureau of Land Management on March 11 of this year and Haerle was recognized by the agent as an associate of another person under investigation for similar crimes. The Hays Free Press was unable to discern if that individual was Joshua Chovanec or someone else.

Haerle reportedly turned over 18 artifacts including points and pieces.

Dr. Mario Garza of the Indigenous Cultures Institute (ICI), who was briefed on the investigation by the San Marcos River Foundation April 10, said those responsible should be held accountable.

“‘Pot-hunters’ who dig up human remains are criminals and are desecrating our ancestors’ graves. They should be prosecuted and deterred from this sacrilegious behavior,” he said.

“The remains of our ancestors should remain buried or be reburied near their original homeland burial sites.”

In September 2016 the city of San Marcos established a repatriation burial ground under the stewardship of the ICI for reburial of Native American remains unearthed in Hays County. The first reburial, of a 24-year-old man who died 1,200 years ago, took place in May 2017. On March 14, 2020, six additional sets of remains that had been in the custody of Texas State University were reburied. Maria Rocha, ICI executive director, said the Miakan-Garza tribe is still seeking more than 3,500 remains unearthed in Texas, including more than 2,400 held by the University of Texas at Austin.

Archaeological studies in and around Spring Lake, the headwaters of the San Marcos River, indicate that humans have lived continuously in the area for 12,000 to 14,000 years. Among Texas’ major spring systems, only the San Marcos Springs have never failed.

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