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History mystery unravels with stolen 900-year-old arrowheads traded for wine then listed for sale on eBay

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — A collection of 900-year-old arrowheads, dug up in East Greenwich possibly 80 years ago then stolen from a local museum in the late ’80s, has turned up in Washington after they were traded for wine through Craigslist and listed on eBay for $500.

The “34 lithic projectile points” were spotted for sale online around April by the Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology registrar, according to a federal seizure document.

Department of Homeland Security special agents said the registrar, identified only as D.K., recalled the artifacts were stolen from the museum in 1987 along with a number of other pieces of history.

The Washington-based sellers, also identified only by their initials, denied knowing the arrowheads were stolen, according to the court document, telling investigators they “traded wine” for them in 2017 with an unknown man who was a frequent Craigslist seller.

The eBay listing called them “museum quality” and repeated documentation found with the collection that indicated they were connected to the Haffenreffer Museum.

The sellers agreed to surrender the property to the special agents and according to a warrant filed last week, the arrowheads are in federal “custody until further order” of Rhode Island Federal District Court.

The Haffenreffer Museum is run by Brown University, but spokesperson Jill Kimball said she could not offer any details about when the collection might be returned to the museum.

“For now, while the matter remains unresolved, we are not offering any comments,” Kimball said.

The federal complaint filed on June 10 states Rudolph F. Haffenreffer Jr. purchased the arrowheads along with “several collections of Native American artifacts” from Rhode Island archeologist Harrie M. Wheeler.

The items became part of Haffenreffer’s King Philip Museum in Bristol which was donated to Brown after Haffenreffer’s death in 1954, according to the filing.

But on July 27, 1987, museum assistant curator Thierry Gentis “discovered that a collection of artifacts, including [the arrowheads], were missing from storage.”

Bristol and Brown University police were notified and “over time many of the missing artifacts were recovered from various locations, including local flea markets.”

But the arrowheads—unearthed by Wheeler between 1928 and 1950, according to the wording on the collection and in the eBay listing—were still missing until now.

Send your story ideas to Target 12 Investigator Walt at wbuteau@wpri.com and follow him on Twitter @wbuteau.

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