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Artifacts avoid auction, for now

CONCORD, N.H. -- Hundreds of rare artifacts collected by archeologist Howard R. Sargent have been saved, at least for now, from the auction block.

The objects include tools and arrowheads Sargent excavated from American Indian sites in the Merrimack and Pemigewasset river valleys throughout his career. Sargent, who was considered the grandfather of New Hampshire archeology, died in 1993 at the age 71.

Backers of a planned Sargent Museum launched a campaign last month to raise $100,000 to buy the artifacts from Mark Humpal, a Cornish dealer in art and historical memorabilia who bought them from Sargent's widow during the 1990s.

Humpal had said that, as a businessman, he would have to sell the collection sometime and had set a January deadline for the museum to buy them.

But last week Humpal said he wanted to reinvigorate the fund-raising campaign so the objects can eventually end up in the museum.

''I don't feel like we have exhausted the possibilities," he said.

Humpal said that if philanthropists buy the artifacts for the museum, they would be creating permanent legacies for themselves and their families.

''The museum will be a showpiece for the state of New Hampshire and house some of the rarest pieces. It will be a valued resource," he said. ''I want to find a donor who sees it that way. It's a legacy for them."

Sargent helped found the New Hampshire Archeological Society and conducted the first statewide archeological survey during the 1950s.

''For years, he was the only professional archeologist in the state," said Robert Goodby, a professor of anthropology at Franklin Pierce College, where Sargent once taught.

''There's a level of renewed hope," said Wesley Stinson, president of the museum. ''Mark and I are agreed to keep this going until we've exhausted the possibilities."

Most of Sargent's collection, including more than 1 million artifacts, remains in storage at the state archeological facility in Concord, according to Stinson. But all involved say it is important to restore Humpal's purchases to the rest of the collection, he said.

''This was some of the 'gee-whiz' stuff," Stinson said. ''There was a strong sense in the museum that we should . . . try to reunite the collection."

The planned museum is an old school building purchased from the city of Manchester in 2002. The building still needs significant renovations and repairs, and Stinson said more money will have to be raised for that work. His preliminary estimate is that the museum will open in 2007.

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