Tuesday, 21 July 2009

"Collectors' Rights" in the Shadow of the Ozarks

Less than ninety kilometres from the home of "collectors' rights" campaigner Wayne Sayles, another court verdict marking an erosion of the "rights" of US citizens with a passion for collecting ancient artefacts was passed down a month ago ('Artifacts Excavation Results in Prison Term and Fine'). I wonder if the dealer in antiquities and antiquity collectors' spokesman was there to lend them his support?

William A. Graves and his wife Misty Graves were sentenced on June 24th, 2009 in US District Court for possession of ancient artefacts that had been dug up on public land in violation of archaeological resource protection legislation (Couple Sentenced for Looting Buffalo River Archeological Site). As a result of a plea bargain, the husband was sentenced to six months imprisonment and one year of supervised probation, while his wife received one year of supervised probation. In addition, the two have been ordered to pay $4,613 to cover repairing the damage they caused to the land (filling in the holes no doubt). The damage to the archaeological record where they had been digging however cannot be repaired so easily.

At the beginning of January 2008, rangers in the Buffalo River National Park found holes and disturbance indicating the recent looting of a known archeological site in the park (Lee Brumbaugh, 'Worse than Poaching: Husband And Wife Sentenced On ARPA Charges', Yosemite News). After two days of keeping a close watch on the site, rangers installed surveillance equipment near it. While this was in progress they met William A. Graves and a juvenile walking toward the area carrying digging tools. Graves was wearing boots which matched impressions of footprints left in the bottom of the looter's holes. Misty Graves was waiting in a vehicle nearby with artefacts and a pickaxe. After preliminary investigations, a search warrant was issued and a search of their home produced numerous items associated with collecting artefacts and other evidence linking the couple "and others to excavating activities in the park and on nearby private land". Graves admitted to digging in the park and "relinquished 71 stone tools, projectile points, or other artefacts that he said originated from the site". After a six month investigation in conjunction with agents from the NPS Investigative Services Branch, the Cultural and Archeological Response Team (CART), William and Misty Graves were indicted by a federal grand jury. The park’s archaeologist, Dr. Caven Clark, was instrumental in the investigation and provided expert testimony during the sentencing proceedings.

These people by going out and digging up what they wanted to collect were exercising in the US what collectors' and dealers' lobby groups in the US (such as the ACCG) regards as simply "free enterprise" when done in foreign countries which have what they call "restrictive antiquities laws" which declare the private search for archaeological finds illegal. The US antiquity collector considers, when the laws are foreign ones, that these are "bad laws" imposed by "corrupt governments". As a result, the purchaser and collector of the items they dig up and sell envisages themselves as striking a blow for freedom and free enterprise doing so.

The Archaeological Resources Protection Act in the US restricting the rights of US collectors of ancient relics from the land they live in was inposed by the Carter Government in 1979. In almost all respects this law is parallel to the foreign ones that groups like the ACCG consistently portray as "bad laws", "restrictive", "nationalistic" laws, which are fundamentally "unfair" to the citizens of the country whose "corrupt" government imposed them, and 'unfair' to collectors outside the country which may claim that country's as their heritage too and want to get their hands on pieces of "their" past. So, obviously if the ACCG wants to get the laws changed in these foreign countries to give US collectors and dealers freer access to the items they protect, they must first lead the way by leading to the abolition of the parallel US laws.

Perhaps collectors might consider that the opportunity seems right for a few ACCG members from the Ozark region to stage a test case by going to the Buffalo River park and emptying out the backfill of Mr Graves' holes after first informing the Park Rangers of their intentions. While they are awaiting trial, a Washington lawyer could then make an FOI request to try and identify any circumstances surrounding the institution of the 1979 ARPA legislation, which can then be used to challenge the arrest of the pot-digging ACCG members as "unconstitutional". After all, the ACCG can hardly fight for the freedom for US citizens to collect ancient artefacts from foreign lands in disregard of the laws and wishes of the governments of those countries if they do not first establsh the (Constitutional) "freedom" to do so in their own land. That is simply illogical, isn't it?

The Executive Director of the ACCG was complaining the other day they were getting so little suport from collectors, well just over the state line from him there has been a petition created for supporting "collectors' rights" in Arkansas. It is called "Metal Detecting In Arkansas State Parks" and it has collected 1095 signatures in support of allowing "coin shooting" on public land. If the ACCG was to champion this collectors' cause, they could boost their membership figures by a substantial percent. That is just one state, why if Mr Sayles was to support metal detectorists, pot-diggers and grave robbers from all fifty US states, his organization would potentially have more than 50 000 new supporters to "fight the fight" for the hobby. So what is stopping them?

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