Updated 3 years ago
Kentucky officials announced Thursday that a settlement has been reached to return the historic Indian Head Rock to Kentucky.
An Agreed Order between the Commonwealth of Kentucky and the city of Portsmouth, Ohio, its former mayor Gregory Bauer, Steven Shaffer and David Vetter, dismissing the civil suit, was filed Thursday in federal district court.
As part of the settlement, the city of Portsmouth will relinquish custody and control of the artifact and permit its transport to a location designated by the Kentucky Heritage Council, an agency responsible for the identification, protection and preservation of the state’s archaeological and historic resources. No date has yet been set for its return, but the exchange is expected to take place over the next few weeks.
“Even though Indian Head Rock was unlawfully removed from a registered state archaeological site in the Ohio River, I am pleased that this protected antiquity is being returned to Kentucky,” Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway said. “I appreciate the City of Portsmouth for working with us to settle this matter outside of the courtroom. I am also grateful to the volunteers who have stepped forward to return Indian Head Rock to Kentucky at no expense to taxpayers.”
Under the settlement agreement, the Commonwealth further agrees to fully and finally release all civil claims causes of action and demands against Shaffer, Vetter, Bauer and the city of Portsmouth and its officers stemming from the artifact’s removal.
The dispute over the eight-ton boulder, which gets its name from the carving of what appears to be an Indian, began after Ironton, Ohio historian Steven Shaffer led an expedition to remove the rock from the Ohio River in 2007. Neither Steven Shaffer nor dive team member, David Vetter, had sought authorization from the Commonwealth of Kentucky, Army Corps of Engineers, or any official or agency, to remove the historic artifact. They had also not filed for any permits requesting to remove the protected antiquity, which served as a noted historical high-water marker on the river.
On February 3, 2009, Conway filed a civil suit in U.S. District Court claiming Kentucky was “the sole and rightful owner” of the artifact.
“We continue to believe that the artifact taken is the Indian Head Rock from the archaeological site designated 15Gp173 by the Kentucky Office of State Archaeology,” said Craig Potts, manager of the Kentucky Heritage Council’s site protection and archaeology program. For the Kentucky Heritage Council, this dispute involved far more than the return of the artifact.
“While we are relieved that an agreement has been reached to return this artifact to Kentucky, our concern has always been and continues to be the protection of Kentucky’s archaeological resources. Federal and state laws exist to protect these sites from looting,” said Mark Dennen, Kentucky Heritage Council executive director and the state’s historic preservation officer. “We appreciate Attorney General Conway’s commitment to protecting Kentucky’s historic and prehistoric archaeological sites and upholding the laws of the Commonwealth.”
Because the integrity of the archaeological site has been compromised, Dennen said returning the rock to the Ohio River would serve no purpose. For now, the rock will be stored by Greenup County government officials until a permanent home can be found and the artifact can be put on display and open for public viewing. The state Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet is currently evaluating these options in partnership with Greenup County officials and other interested parties.
“We believe it is important to make this artifact available for public viewing not only to highlight local history and lore, but also to use it as an opportunity to teach others about the importance of protecting cultural resources,” stressed Dennen. “Once these sites are gone, so is their capacity to reveal new information about Kentucky’s past.”