Amateur archeologists and anthropologists alike plundered Mesa Verde’s cliff dwellings for years, taking what they pleased. Amongst them was Swedish researcher Gustaf Nordenskiöld, whose controversial excavation and exportation of hundreds of items from Mesa Verde in the late 1890s drew attention to the need to protect such sites and artifacts. At the time, Mesa Verde was not a national park and no law prevented researchers like Nordenskiöld from plundering historic sites.
When authorities tried to stop Nordenskiöld from leaving the country with the collection in 1891, they did not have the legal grounds to do so. Because of the case and the uproar it caused, President Theodore Roosevelt approved the Federal Antiquities Act of 1906 created Mesa Verde National Park.
Nordenskiöld and his trove of artifacts were already long gone though and would eventually become part of the collection of the National Museum of Finland. In 1990 the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act was passed, which provides a legal process and guidelines for tribes seeking the return of their looted objects and ancestral remains. Since then, Native American tribes have been busy seeking the return of their cultural heritage from museums and private collections around the world and within the US.