Wednesday 18 July 2012

"Scavengers have been at it again" Attitudes to US "Metal Detecting"

"Scavengers have been at it again -- picking over the sacred ground of America's greatest battlefield" begins an article in a US newspaper (Torsten Ove, 'Gettysburg rangers stay vigilant for looters', Pittsburgh Post-Gazette,  July 14, 2012) discussed in the post above.

The tone of the article is interesting, to read it you would not think that the US market is awash with artefacts dugup in other countries in violation of antiquities protection laws and sold openly to collectors over there. That is not a problem that bothers many over there, but you touch a piece of American Heritage... Note also that US collectors constantly state that looting is the fault of source nations for not guarding sites adequately, and here we find the admission that even with considerable (it says) resources behind it, the US Parks Service cannot stop the looting at their own sites.

Larry Rothfield ('Why it is Pollyannaish to imagine that antiquities looting can be stopped if only locals educated about the relationship between antiquities and their own country's history') notes the incongruence of the contents of this article and arguments of "archaeologists and cultural heritage advocates" (actually pro-collecting lobbyists trot it out too) that "looting stems largely from ignorance on the part of locals about the past they are destroying, and that the best way to stop those who would dig is to educate them to care about and embrace heritage as their own". Quite clearly what is happening at Gettysburg is occurring because metal detectorists digging on the battleground at Gettysburg see it precisely as their own heritage.

In the comments below the article we see some interesting insights into different attitudes. Dennis Harless (look at his avatar) writes: "I really don't have a problem with relic hunters [...] The items in the ground belong to everyone [...] Honest Professional relic hunters are responsible for recovering much of our nations lost history". Any guesses what Mr H does many weekends? For him though: "The major point is that if you let anyone come into the park and start digging it will soon be nothing but a landscape of holes and ruts". So once again we meet the idea that if one fills in the holes, "no damage is done" to anything important. Except the archaeology that is. Mr H. also suggests "any search or removal should be at the discretion of the NPS" as it is. They say 'no'.

 Other comments below the article reflect the situation in the US that pre-historic heritage is mainly protected by a law which protects "graves" and burials. Michael L. Kundrat writes: "The grave robbers have changed over the years...from body snatching to belt buckle and round balls....but they are still the same dispicable characters of history! jail them all" and Dan Schulz adds: "this is nothing more than a reflection of todays disrespect". While I would like to think that this means disrespect for the historic environment as a whole, I feel he is actually continuing the "grave-robbing" theme. 

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