Sunday, November 27, 2011

That's Old, and Authentic! I'll buy it and put it in my bathroom...

Drugs, Arms, and Arrowheads: Theft From Archaeological Sites and the Dangers of Fieldwork

Blythe Bowman Proulx
Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice, November 2011, Pages 500-522

This article presents findings from a recent worldwide study of archaeological site looting, which largely fuels the international trade in illicitly obtained antiquities. Focused on practicing archaeologists’ opinions about and personal experiences with site looting, the study surveyed 2,358 archaeologists excavating throughout the world in 118 countries. Key findings presented here include archaeologists’ reports of connections between archaeological site looting and the production of and trade in methamphetamine across the United States. American archaeologists report run-ins with “meth heads” on their sites with increasing frequency. Other archaeologists working throughout the world report violent encounters with looters on site, some of whom even report being shot at and assaulted by looters. Overall findings suggest that archaeological fieldwork has become an increasingly dangerous occupation around the world.


pkd said...

Calling Indiana Jones!

Tom said...

Ancient artifacts are "owned" by the designated representatives of the state because...

[hypothesis] said representatives can make "better" use of them than others.

Truly? Well, it sounds good... except that "better use" objectively translates into "will pay more for". The fact is that collectors will pay much more than archeologists for some items.

Most people WANT the archeologists to get access. Is this a "market failure"?

NO -- it is (at first) a Problem. I recall a wise man once said that no problem is so bad that a legislature cannot make it worse.

Free archeologists might try means other than Main Force to address the problem. They are surely more innovative than your humble correspondent, but one possibility is to commercialize the process: Excavate a site with the announced intention of auctioning choice items to the highest bidder. Purchase contract can specify that designated archeologists get continuing access to examine the items and to re-examine as archeological technology improves. Extra income from the sale pays for security during excavation -OR- the same people who are now poachers (thieves?) can get more for their items as the sale is subsidized by archeologists wanting an access clause in the sale contract.

Of course, options like the above are illegal. Thus archeologists lose access to many items and must put their lives at risk to excavate. Violence escalates as (black market) prices go up. Worse; worse -- thanks legislators.

mike shupp said...

Tom --

I so admire free market solutions to common condumdrums! But before we start auctioning off artifacts from archaeological sites, we might want to run some preliminary field tests.

Here's my thought: Let's pick out maybe 50 community cemetaries from across the US, one from each state, and send in the archaeologists and looters to dig up artifacts and bones and start auctioning them off to the highest bidders. Arlington, Virginia would be a splendid example -- lots of bones, lots of metal, lots of shiny things to attract all sorts of commercial interest. And with the money they'd make, archaeologists could afford to do field work outside the USA as well, where this exciting new approach will certainly be welcome! And we'll be sure to keep cops and churches from getting involved, won't we, since nothing so spoils the operations of a truly free market like a despotic totalitarian state. Thank you for your splendid idea - and I'm sure you will talk it up among all your friends and relatives.

Tom said...

@mike -- You think there is a conundrum establishing ownership for a community cemetery?

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there might be tom !

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