Wednesday, June 24, 2009

"Pot hunting" and absentee archaeologists?

I was interested to read the Las Vegas Review-Journal editorial on the "pot hunting" episode in the Four Corners region (June 21, 2009).
No one is endorsing wanton vandalism of such sites or artifacts. But it would be useful and realistic if a cooperative, rather than an adversarial, approach allowed quick surveys of such sites, with the most archaeologically promising being set aside for near-future professional digs, with residents told "Harvest the rest if you can."

How do all such artifacts -- even those unknown and undiscovered -- automatically become the property of absentee archaeologists who may never even show up?
The piece then points to two voices for the collecting lobby: Kate Fitz Gibbon and Peter Tompa (see my comments here).

Praise to "Doug" for leaving his thoughts on the Editorial:
The first false assumption is that the looted items "belong" to long dead peoples. Archaeological objects on federal lands belong to all Americans.

Second, an archaeologist who excavates such things never "owns" what he or she excavates. These items are strictly controlled, and the object's ownership goes to the federal government which often stores such objects in state museums. Implying that this is not the case belies a deep ignorance of the laws regarding public lands.
Ownership is the non-issue. Archaeology promotes good stewardship of our cosmopolitan cultural resources.

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