Monday 28 May 2012

Archaeological Sites in USA Left Unguarded: Looted

US dealers and collectors of dugup antiquities insist that their no-questions-asked activities are in no way responsible for the looting of sites to fuel the expansion of the market. They claim the sole responsibility is with the citizens of the source country who "allow the looting to go on" by not guarding the archaeological sites which they come from.

Yet the United States has an analogous problem with looting, and not even one of the world's richer economies can support stationing a guard or two to oversee 24/7 what happens on the archaeological sites of that country, not even those which have upstanding remains and rich deposits underground.

One such site reported in the press recently was Kincaid Mounds State Historic Site, a town and religious center of the Mississippian culture of 1,000 years ago in what is now rural Massac and Pope counties (about 170 miles southeast of St. Louis, infamous for its looted mummy-mask).  Last month, someone dug several holes in a portion of the site, which had been targeted before.
In 2008, three holes several feet wide and deep appeared in the side of one of the nine mounds, with two of the holes in spots looters had struck the previous year.[...] The disturbance of archaeological sites or skeletal remains on state-owned property can be a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail, a $10,000 fine, reparations and forfeiture of any vehicles or equipment used in the misdeed. Unsettling of burial sites on public land also may be a felony carrying a three-year prison term and $25,000 fine.
Or, as we have seen in such cases over the past few years, a mere slap on the wrist if the US judge feels like it, of course. Hardly worth putting any resources into finding the culprits if the US court system fails to accept the laws making it a punishable offence. Nevertheless the Chicago Tribune tries to persuade its readers that the US does look after its archaeological heritage:
Such cases have produced federal charges. In 2010, Leslie Jones pleaded guilty to excavation, removal or damage of archaeological resources without a permit after investigators found more than 13,000 artifacts from southern Illinois' Cypress Creek National Wildlife Refuge at his home in Creal Springs, Ill. The collection included pottery, clay figures, stone weapons, tools and more than 200 pieces of human skeletal remains dating from roughly 6000 B.C. to 400 A.D. Jones was sentenced to a month in jail, five years of probation, 500 hours of community service and ordered to pay more than $150,000 in restitution. He had faced up to two years in prison and a $20,000 fine. Jones admitted he had sold some of the artifacts he unearthed at the refuge from 2004 through February 2007, having done extensive research that enabled him to identify pieces of artifacts and their time periods.
 Ah, the "research" artefact hunters and collectors do. Perhaps he used for this a showcase gallery "research website" on the same lines as the one being produced for coins by Alfredo De La Fe.

 Of course not all (White) Americans care: In the comments to the story, Chrissakes asks "Were there any casino chips in those mounds?". Another expression of the same sort of cultural indifference is that more damage was done to the site recently when an all-terrain vehicle or truck was driven on one of the mounds, where "No Trespassing" signs are posted and ATVs are prohibited, the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency said on Friday.After all, it's only 'injun' stuff innit? Not part of the heritage of AMERICANS, not like Roman and Greek coins dug up back in Yurope.

So if the US is not guarding sites like this to stop collectors looting them for profit, is it not unreasonable  to expect poorer countries to do so? Surely a more effective way will be to clean up the international antiquities market to make it much more difficult to shift the looted material? Why would responsible dealers and collectors refuse to take responsibility for helping do that?

AP, 'Agency: Ancient burial mounds looted, driven over', Chicago Tribune May 25, 2012

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