Saturday, 21 January 2012

Metal Detecting Battlefields: Some "Stout Defence" Required?

I wrote the other day about a US metal detectorist plundering a Revolutionary War battlefield and for my efforts earned a few ad hominem non-replies from the would-be-justifiers of artefact hunting over in the US. They hold that "the good that metal detetorists do" outweighs any problems. Two recent articles about metal-detector wielding collectors of militaria therefore caught my eye. More good guys, no doubt, who are victims of the loose conspiracy of "a few radical and/or politically motivated archaeologists and historians" in US academe who use the media to criticise the hobby. No doubt Dick Stout in Texas and the Task Force for Artefact Hunters Rights will be conducting a letter writing campaign to counter the "slur" of the hobby represented these recent articles.

The first one by this article concerning another US collector of militaria (Michael Buettner, 'Petersburg man pleads guilty to damaging battlefield The Progress-Index, December 8, 2011). It seems that a metal detectorist from Petersburg, near Richmond Virginia has pleaded guilty to federal charges of unlawfully taking Civil War relics from the Petersburg National Battlefield.
In U.S. District Court in Richmond, John Jeffrey Santo pleaded guilty on Tuesday to two counts of damaging archaeological resources, each of which carries a maximum penalty of two years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000, and one count of depredation of government property, with a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000. Santo originally was charged with three counts of damaging archaeological resources and one count each of depredation of government property, theft of government property and unlawful possession of a firearm. He will remain in federal custody while awaiting sentencing at a date to be determined. According to court documents, Santo was accused of illegally excavating Civil War artifacts at the Petersburg park on several occasions between September 2007 and December 2010. On Feb. 10, 2011, federal officials including park rangers searched Santo's home in the 1800 block of Oakland Street in Petersburg. There, according to a court filing, they found "in excess of 9,000 war relics and artifacts including bullets, buckles and assorted ordnance."
About the same time, as reported on WAPT-TV, an Alabama man pleaded guilty to similar charges of digging for relics at Vicksburg [Mississippi]:
An Alabama man has been given three years’ probation and been told to stay out of national military parks after an unauthorized dig at the Vicksburg National Military Park.The Vicksburg Post reported that Ernest Taylor of Foley, Ala., pleaded guilty last month in federal court to altering or defacing an archaeological resource, a felony. He was sentenced on Nov. 28. Court documents show Taylor, his wife and son were arrested Sept. 3, 2010 using a metal detector and digging holes at the park for Civil War relics.
The "To the Sound of the Guns: Civil War Artillery, Battlefields and Historical Markers" blog discusses these two cases:
Those are lands set aside for protection – be that national, state, or local park; land held by a conservation/preservation organization (such as Civil War Trust); or even just under a conservation easement. And that protection extends to the artifacts in the ground, in my opinion.
The blog's author calls this "The Extreme Side of Relic Hunting", I'd call this kind of artefact hunting on protected sites theft.

As I said, alongside all the militant talk of "metal detectorists' rights", let us see attention paid to metal detectorists' responsibilities.

Vignette: TFMDRF logo.

1 comment:

Thutmose said...

FYI, that's Vicksburg, Mississippi. It really burns me up that anyone can not only desecrate battlefields, but also ruin the archaeological context of ancient artifacts. Not only the people that dig them up, but also anyone that buys the found artifacts must be punished. By eliminating demand, people won't do it as much.


Creative Commons License
Ten utwór jest dostępny na licencji Creative Commons Uznanie autorstwa-Bez utworów zależnych 3.0 Unported.