April 16, 2006

Archaeologists versus landowners and relic-hunters.

Landowners collect hundreds of dollars from relic-hunters, leaving archaeologists aghast as the historical context is stripped away from artifacts. Should legislators side with the archaelogists?

8 comments:

Christy said...

I'm conflicted on the issue.

On the one hand I cringe, nay, I weep at the destruction of much of the archaeological record at Troy. On the other hand, we would likely still be thinking it was mythological if Schliemann hadn't been treasure hunting (and maybe forging.)

Frankly, I care much more when we lack records of an area/era.

We read that the museums in this country have most of their collections boxed and unexamined. If this is so, I don't begrudge the relic-hunter his fun. I do, however, hold in special contempt any who would remove relics from protected areas or areas currently being worked.

Mark the Pundit said...

My parents own a home in an area of Alabama that is near a battlefield site, and if someone happened to dig up an artifact (like an old bullet or something), no fuss is made by anyone. In fact, the real estate office promoting the development has various civil war-era items that have been discovered by construction crews and others.

Drethelin said...

While I would obviously regret the loss of context for these artifacts, I think the owner of the property is entirely in the right here. if archeaologists want to obtain or keep these artifacts from being moved, then they should spend their money to convince this man not to do it, rather than holding a gun to his head (which is basically what getting the government to legislate it is).

yetanotherjohn said...

Every day you use hundreds of g=dollars worth of shelter by sleeping and eating in your house. Should the government decide that they have a better use for your house than you, especially without compensating you for it?

Or to put it another way, if perserving the historical context of the relics is so valuable to society, won't the archaeologists be able to raise the money to buy the land from the owner. And if they aren't able to raise the money, then doesn't that say something about the value.

Why should you look to the legislature to impose an unfunded tax on the landowner because the archaeologists are upset enough to complain, but not upset enough to raise the money.

And if we impose the tax on this landowner, what is to prevent the legislature to opening your home as an unfunded homeless shelter for the betterment of society?

Gaius Arbo said...

I argued that archaeologists would be better off working with the relic hunters to maximize the data gathering, thereby making this a win-win. After all, the professionals haven't gotten around to these sites in the past 140 years or so, so why wait until the relics have all rusted away?

Verification: Rahflme - a fundraiser for my hosting service bills? That oughta buy about three seconds of hosting.....

Alan Kellogg said...

So why don't the archeologists enlist the aid of the relic hunters?

Timothy said...

The archeologists should make the landowners a better offer than the relic hunters if it's that important to them, frankly.

Anthony said...

I posted the link and some comments here

I basically argue that it's doubtful anything can be done about activities on private property without running afoul of the Constitution. Some countries have laws claiming public ownership of artifacts recovered on private property, but that probably won't happen here.

On these two comments:

So why don't the archeologists enlist the aid of the relic hunters?

and

The archeologists should make the landowners a better offer than the relic hunters if it's that important to them, frankly.

It's a dilemma. If archaeologists go around paying people for artifacts they've dug up, that would just encourage more looting. Really just increasing the market for such objects. We certainly wish we had the time, money, and manpower (not to mention storage space and time, money, and manpower to analyze everything) to dig up everything that's out there. But the problem is, we don't want to dig up everything that's out there. As I mention in the post, the safest place for most artifacts is in the ground. There's little doubt that future archaeologists will be able to derive much more information from remains than we can, and seeing as the archaeological record is a non-renewable resource, the least we disturb it now the more will be left for the future.

Feel free to search for (and comment on!) other posts at ArchaeoBlog. It's a complicated issue and several people have argue for a market-based approach. I'm undecided but tend toward skepticism at the market-based ideas.