Saturday 5 May 2012

Recreational Use of Metal Detectors Banned at Fort Lee, Virginia

Fort Lee Virginia, situated near the tri-cities – Petersburg, Colonial Heights and Hopewell is US Combined Arms Support Command and has a few other functions too. It has recently undergone a phase of modernization and expansion (with a budget of more than $1.2 billion). As federal property covering sites which have seen much activity in the past, the development is preceded by environmental impact assessments and rescue archaeological excavation. I was interested to learn that Fort Lee has put a ban on recreational metal detector use on its property "to stop people from looting relics on the base" (I thought it was illegal on federal property anyway?). The report on this from local broadcaster WTVR really has to be seen, it is full of every anti-artefact-hunting cliché and scare tactic imaginable (there's a Chetwynd in it too):

"A war on our history grinds on. Illegal digging can be dirty business, with relic hunters selling pieces of the past to pawn shops and other collectors. Amy Wood, an Archeologist at Ft. Lee, says protecting the past is her priority. “If the relic and soil is removed then essentially they’ve taken that history and run with it. They don’t understand they’re losing more than they’re gaining by doing this.” [...] At a secret site on the base archeologist Bryce Stanley and his research team documenting the American collective history. The team of three is studying a site before construction can begin on a new building. Stanley says, “Nobody will ever know what’s been lost. Everybody loses. We lose our identity as Americans.” The ban not only preserves our past it also shields the relic hunter from severe injury or death [...] a hefty fine and possible jail time [ ...] The relics found by hunters may be small, but archeologists say the tiny piece is monumental in telling the entire story of who we are."
But there is more, watch through to the end of the video for the extraordinarily hammy performance of  presenter Greg McQade. Simply amazing - I thought 'Peasant TV' in Poland was bad enough...

Predictably, mention is made of the sentencing in March of Petersburg metal detectorist  John Santo for relic hunting and digging up thousands of artifacts at Petersburg National Battlefield.

I see US archaeologists try to reason with the unreasoning too: "Bryce says looting history is akin to ripping chapters out of a book. Stanley says, “Don’t go out and dig just to go digging. Think about what you’re destroying”. As if. In the comments is the reaction of one Bruce Collier - apparently a "relic hunter" showing where the folksy approach really is not going to work:
I fail to see how this is"looting","stealing history"or causing us to"lose our identity as Americans".These things that are in the ground,leftover from the Civil war,aren't like national treasures or something.Most are of little value,just ordinary things lost or left behind by the armies and their soldiers.If the National Park service,or Fort Lee had plans to go out and recover these things,and people were stealing them out from under their noses I might understand,but they have no plans to recover this stuff.If left long enough they will just crumble to dust.
Really? Basically it seems to me that there is zero understanding here of what archaeology is about. What is the AIA doing about this?

Hat tip to Jakob for the link. Vignette, Wikipedia

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