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Re: MORE comment on archaeo-sensationalism and looting

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  • George Thomas
    Re sensationalism, I suppose we could draw a continuum with ennui at one end, sensationalism at the other end, and lively, constructive interest at
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 27, 2009
      Re sensationalism, I suppose we could draw a continuum with "ennui" at one end, "sensationalism" at the other end, and "lively, constructive interest" at various points in the middle.  Sometimes there's more of a problem with the headlines than with the articles as written: "Best Kept Secrets of Archaeology," "Untold Stories" (told and re-told several times, but labeled "untold" to attract readership), and "No Stone Unturned."  (Hmmmm. Familiar....).
      Decades before 9-11, Fort Hood mil res was an "open post."  Anyone could drive and hike anywhere on the installation that wasn't within the artillery impact area -- and some moseyed there anyway.  Looting at prehistoric sites was quite rampant for some time. In the 80s it was like a feeding frenzy.  Targets were the chipped stone artifacts, extremely infrequent "Caddoan" style pottery and occasional metate y metate de mano, quite different from the varied, "bronze/iron age" Saxon "hoards" (aye, my Celtic blood surges on mention of that term!) of jolly England, but the impact (arcane CRM term meaning messing stuff up) on archaeological sites is similar.
      I even detected some possible coherent, value-based explanation for "pot hunter" looting. One fellow related having lived where Fort Hood land is now, pre-1941, and remembering old relatives speaking bitterly about Indian raids.  No follow-up, and the man might have been sensationalizing his own attitude, but that might be worth investigating in connection with old backcountry attitudes surviving generations and fueling today's archaeological looter mentality.  "Property rights" activism was also a driving force for some time.  (Untangle THAT on a federal installation!)  Parallels with Britain?  What thousand-year-old resentments survive?  Is it all a class/economic matter?  Now there's a study!
      Notice: Texas pot-hunters remove "salable" projectile points from context (hearth association, storage pit, pollen samples, shell midden, etc); and the sensationalized coverage of the Saxon hoard mentioned nothing of context.  That's one similarity.
      Taken together, the SACC comments over the past few days make a fine co-authored essay.  Maybe I'll run it by the folks on the Texas Archeological Society listserver to see if anyone comments.  But it's certainly going to be part of any archaeology course I write.
      comment on archaeo-sensationalism and looting
          Posted by: "Bob Muckle" bmuckle@... canadianarchaeologist
          Date: Sat Sep 26, 2009 10:58 am ((PDT))

      I would rather have over-archaeo-sensationalism than no sensationalism at all, I suppose.

      I feel somewhat like Pam Ford, I think, as in its like three steps forward and two steps back or something like that. And I can embrace the thinking of Deborah and George insofar as perhaps increasing enrolment. In fact, I have come to depend on archaeo-sensationalism in my teaching....using the popular media stories as kind of a springboard to generally thinking and reading critically, especially in the context of archaeology. I believe I've had quite a bit of success with this past week, using my the stories about the skeletons found at Troy and the Anglo-Saxon hoard found in Great Britain. (Don't ya just love that description....hoard?). Both stories generated quite a bit of discussion, because most students were aware of the stories...(one of the good things about all these tech toys is that news spreads around the world almost instantly, and those who would never normally read a newspaper or watch television are getting their initial news via 140
      (or less) characters on their mobile phones (or whatever it is we call these devices that do use multitudes of mediums to communicate with), and linking to video and more complete news reports. These, and stories like them, provide absolutely fabulous 'teachable moments' for me.  I wouldn't be surprised if those short snippets of critical discussion are more meaningful to them in regards to understanding anthropology, than multiple lectures and chapters from a textbook.

      I find the discovery in Great Britain quite fascinating. I'm not familiar much at all with the potential significance of this find to archaeology in general and more particularly to the Anglo-Saxon period, so I eagerly await the scholarly reports to come out. By the time that happens though, the public interest will undoubtedly have waned, and there will have been a litany of new discoveries of "treasure" and stories of the amateur treasure hunters.

      About looting in Great Britain......I'm not sure if it the same now as a few decades ago, but I came to understand during mutiple visits to Great Britain some years ago, that one of the biggest problems facing archaeologists was the perceived monetary value of their discoveries. Archaeological projects depended quite a bit on both volunteer labor of the unemployed (if they wanted to keep the money coming from the government..."on the dole" I believe it was called....many of them were required to work on excavations). The problem was that many of the volunteers and those who were required to work on the projects really had no interest in anything but treasure. By day, they would dutifully excavate and sieve...all the while keeping an eye for the "hot spots" of treasure (ie. where the Roman coins and Medieval artifacts were), and then under the cover of darkness they would return to loot the site, often with metal detectors.

      I'm pretty sure that the problem of looters in the United States and Canada pales in comparison with the problems of looters in Great Britain.


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