Wednesday 10 March 2010

Looting Cultural Artefacts Gaining National Attention in US

Professional photographer Todd Bigelow on his blog ("Looting Cultural Artifacts Gaining National Attention") is one of the latest of a number of individuals who has drawn attention to the destructive effects of indiscriminate artefact collecting. He tells of being led
"to a site that left me in awe. On both sides of me were twenty foot walls of dark rock with ancient petroglyphs nearly everywhere the eye could see. [...] It was fascinating. Until you saw the large chunks of rock that were removed to reveal the much lighter color underneath [...]where large chisels were placed and the slabs containing rock art were removed.
So once again other parts of the archaeological and cultural heritage are being turned by artefact hunters into "portable antiquities" for collectors to gloat over. These collectors themselves invariably claim they are "preserving" the past, and "understanding" the creators of these artefacts in private in a way less well endowed individuals can allegedly never do. So they think. But of course the others never have a chance if every site where evidence of the past remains (remained) has been dug over, plundered, emptied of anything deemed collectable. All over the world - just to feed the greed of a minority of selfish people.

From Joshua Tree National Park to near Barstow, CA and places far between, looters are illegally removing cultural artifacts for their own pleasure and financial gain. While we roamed the expansive terrain of Joshua Tree near dusk, the golden hour light casting a warm glow on the rock formations, it was explained how difficult it is to stop the illicit activity. With millions of acres containing artifacts and few NPS agents, the chance of catching someone in the act of looting is rare, Swain admits. But the evidence of looting is abundant. Large, partially filled holes dot the landscape where “twiggers”, a term referring to tweekers (meth addicts) who are diggers, have excavated an area in an effort to recover pottery shards, arrowheads, tools and other artifacts.
See Todd's slideshow here. He points out that the lack of prosecutions is not because the trade is "legal", but because it is difficult to make charges stick, so US authorities rarely succeed.

But in order for there to be a market, there have to be people willing to buy such items. Unscrupulous and indiscriminating people who do not ask the seller - or themselves - where the geegaws they collect come from. This really is something that needs to draw national attention in those countries where the market in such items involves a vast number of objects going into the hands of a selfish and destructive minority under the noses of the rest of the decent citizens of that country.

Photo: Copyright Todd Bigelow (with his permission, no unauthorised use please)

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