Wednesday 24 June 2009

Artefact Hunting on First Nations Sites in Canada

The problem of the destruction of archaeological information by individuals digging up archaeological sites to gain collectable artifacts for entertainment and profit is not restricted to a few continents and countries with ancient civilisations. Like the United States, Canada too has problems with artefact hunters like pot diggers acting illegally (Dustin Walker, Archeologists mum about find Daily News June 24, 2009, on the basis of which this text was compiled).

This problem is being studied by Andrew Mason, a Vancouver archeologist. He however is encountering difficulties in assessing its scale since he admits that the government doesn't always keep track of how often ancient sites are raided by artefact thieves and collectors, and without that information, it is impossible to know how much of Canada's ancient heritage is being stolen or what measures should be taken to curb it. He says that we really don't have a sense of how big the market is or how big the problem is. A better framework needs to be developed to keep track of stolen relics across Canada which will allow authorities to compare notes and see trends developing. This will help the government determine why people are taking the items and whether it's even a problem worth addressing. "It's been a bit of a struggle just finding out compared to other countries. Do we seriously have a problem, do we need to step in to curb it or is it an infrequent occurrence?" he asked.

Mason is the co-author of a 1991 paper about 'public attitudes towards archaeological resources and their management') available online which addresses the problem of site looting and vandalism which are major threats to the archaeological resource base. The authors say that "more stringent laws alone will not resolve this problem. Rather, an effective solution requires a major change in public opinion to increase awareness and understanding of our archaeological heritage".

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