Topic ID #14232 - posted 10/5/2011 5:24 PM

Define a Looter


Thought it might be interesting to hear how y'all Archaeologists might define what a looter is. It seems the term has been tagged to ever increasing and responsible generation of collectors, along with the bad element. Not trying to stir the pot, just would like to hear some responsible opinions.

Post ID#19069 - replied 10/6/2011 4:52 AM


The legal definition is easy to look up.

To me, anyone that removes archaeological evidence from a site outside of a formal archaeological context (which includes systematic recording and collection) is destroying the site.  Often it is quite legal and therefore technically not a looter.  In the strictest sense; a looter is someone only interested in the "thing" or the loot rather  than the behavior that created and eventually put the thing there (i.e. the anthropology).  Artifacts only interest me insomuch as they are data that can explain cultural data.  If it isn't collected in the proper fashion, then that data is destroyed and so is the site (even secondary deposit sites).

And, no, a point on a map where the item was found is not very helpful.

Collectors destroy data.  Even though, often they have the legal right to do so.. so they are not looters.  Looters are collectors who do so illegally. 

Post ID#19070 - replied 10/6/2011 5:55 AM


Thanks. I can see your point, but I believe many artifacts are found out of context. Also, many are basically rescued from development, the plow or animal hooves.

Post ID#19071 - replied 10/6/2011 11:37 AM


I agree completely with McBain. Unless the artifacts are found in your pocket, they are not really so much out of context. Just because a point has been turned up by a blow doesn't necessarily put it "out of context". Just because an artifact is out of its original place when it was dropped or left, doesn't mean it is not useful to the archaeological record. There are likely many more points/flakes/various other artifact that may be near or under where the point was turned up, or a bank they washed out of - unfortunately you seem to use the word "rescue" as if you are doing the archaeological world a service. This is not the case.

As McBain said, legally such folks are not looters, but in my opinion no different. Also filed under the name "pothunters"...

I guess I'll just never understand collecting something just for the sake of having it.

Post ID#19072 - replied 10/6/2011 2:30 PM


The definition of looting varies from illegal collecting, through digging stratified sites, to any collecting, just according to whose opinion is given. The key fact is that, while professional archaeologists are held to a certain ethical standard, collectors are held to a legal one, which in most states isn't as stringent.

It's pretty hard for collectors to destroy data, short of digging on stratified sites, if they report what they're finding.  And the stated opinion that responsible collectors are no different than pothunters (read: looters) pretty much guarantees that no co-operation (or reporting of finds) is gonna happen. 

Post ID#19075 - replied 10/7/2011 6:29 AM


Form me the key really is - Why is something being collected and how is it done.  As has already been expressed - anything you find in the field, unless it is in a pile of dirt brought from somewhere else altogether - is STILL IN CONTEXT - its just a matter of what level of contexts.  A projectile point on the surface of a plowed field is definitely in context.  Professionals find, record and utilize data about that type of find all the time. The idea that an object must be found in its pristine "original" location to be of importance is a) an elitist position, pushed by some academic oriented folks that only want to work on such sites; and b) ignorant (not meant in a bad way) of the very "laws" that govern the depositional process or taphonomy (Oh no - is he about to go all nomothetic/ Schiffer on us....sort of).  

Unless an obect was intentionally placed in a particular spot (i.e. in a burial) all artifacts are subject to natural processes (umm and human ones in historic times) that move them about.  Bioturbation (both roots and animals) erosional actions, alluvial situations, aeolian transformation, secondary re-depostion by activities of the original creators and subsequent prehistoric occupants, etc.  are all actions that "remove" and object from its originally "dropped" spot.  A huge part of archaeological interpretation is being able to recognize, interpret and document those various conditions to help understand how they have created the "site" we see and how they relate to the activities of the people that created the site. 

So say an artifact is found in a plowed field and the collector records a dot on his map - We have still lost all kinds of data about that item.  What was the texturre, color, compostion of the surrounding soils - even plowed areas can provide details that will be helpful when the correct data is collected.  What was the orientation of the object, what are the microtopographic conditions of the area; what other items are in the vicinity - not just the other nice artifacts collected, but what about the lithic flakes left behind, their material, does it match the items collected or they made from a different material; are there pottery sherds to tiny to care about;  what is the surrounding vegetation; etc.  All of this is data that would be important in an "archaeological collection" of the area rather than a "looter/artifact collector" collection. 

The next step is to make sure that all this data is then recorded and placed somewhere that others can access it for future research (as well as the items themselves).  On this front even many professional archaeologists fall down and come close to the realm of "looting" rather than research.  Even for those working in a University setting, collecting just to do it as a field school, and never getting that data processed and out for others is no better than someone collecting for their own wall decoration.  Even if such an effort is unable to get published in a widely read journal - there is a need to let others know the data has been collected and is available for review.  This can be done at regional and state meetings, through newsletters, "local" journals, etc., as well as being sure to document the sites in the statewide inventory of sites that are typically kept at the SHPO office (or they will know where to send you). 

I may not have directly answered your question, but I hope this give you something to ponder and helps you understand why there is often the reaction there is to "looting" by whatever name it is called.

Post ID#19076 - replied 10/7/2011 8:10 AM


The thing with plowed fields is, it's pretty rare to walk one that has just been plowed for the first time. More often the field has been plowed a hundred times or more, and in the case of large fields subsoiled and bottom plowed to the point that little relationship remains to what the site looked like originally. Artifacts have been moved feet away from where deposited, Paleo material mixed with Woodland. It is true that most collectors ignore modified flakes and debitage, but as to material identification I would postulate that very experienced collectors usually have a better idea of that than many professionals working in a given locality.

As for stream bed finds, I've collected in creeks for many years. I can count on one hand the number of times we have been able to trace artifacts in the creek back to land sites that still survive. The way the artifacts get into the creek is by erosion of a levee terrace that contains a most cases this erosion took place long ago; finding a site where the process is ongoing would certainly be possible, but isn't a common occurence. More commonly the stuff is just background noise in the bed load. It does tend to be concentrated near the point of origin, but in one case where I absolutely know the location of the land site, artifacts apppear in the creek and taper off 3/4 of mile downstream.

The bugaboo with all this really is economic, in the end. Realistically, most plowed fields on private land are never going to be subject to professional excavation or even survey, unless something unusual is found or suspected. And guess who is going to likely be the one to report that? And barring the location of a stratified site within a stream channel, do you really think any funding will ever be given to go sift through several tons of sand and gravel to retrieve artifacts that you're not even sure of their origin? (And on that subject-I once thought that a stratified site in a river bed would be impossible. Evidently not so, judging by what has been found in FL. And these sites were located by, wait for it, collector activity.)

My personal ethical stance, FWIW: anything in the creek is fair game. I rarely hunt in plowed fields these days, largely because timber production has replaced row crop farming where I live. No digging in the woods, or even in a plowed field. I have seen what information can be gotten by people who really know what they are doing, and that is best left to them. The law gives me a specific tolerance for my activities, which I am bound to follow or be subject to penalty.

Post ID#19077 - replied 10/7/2011 11:31 AM


Just cause I love to stir the pot. Context can not be destroyed but transferred.

Archaeological example- The Apache loved to re-use archaic projectile points. They in effect destroyed one context be removing the points from older sites but when they left them in their sites they create a new context. Because of this we learn lots about the Apache but not that much about older groups.

Modern example- A collector removes a point "destroying" its context but in 50 years when his house becomes an archaeological sites (I assume a zombie outbreak causes him to abandon it) then we won't learn anything about the person who created the point (assuming where the collector found it was where the creator left it and it is not part of some long chain of use) but we will learn lots about the person who picked it up and in a way used it. We will know what he liked to collect e.g. what he does in his spare time, where he traveled to etc. We might even be able to determine if he used some sort of long distance trade network (ebay) to obtain his collection.

So while a collector is destroying the context for me to understand past peoples at the same time he is creating context for me or future archaeologists to understand him. One man's trash is another man's archaeology.

Post ID#19079 - replied 10/7/2011 1:30 PM


Well stirring the pot is a good way to get discussion going. "Context can not be destroyed but transferred." Let me think about that a little LOL.

I just question how much context is left in the majority of cases of artifacts within stream beds. I once found a Middle Archaic tube bead cooning in a sand bar, in the same double handful of sand with the bead was part of a mayonaise jar, paper label still attached. I've found Carcharocles auriculatus teeth in a pothole with a bicycle pedal. Last weekend I walked a section of creek that the bed of was an Eocene sea floor, in the sand bar I sampled were a profusion of marine fossils, along with the usual broken glass (all modern), pieces of railroad debris, an old tire, and a Minie ball. 

Post ID#19080 - replied 10/8/2011 6:12 AM


I agree with everyone's previous comments that defined what a looter was to them.  I think a looter doesn't want to share what he finds, only sell or brag about it.  The whole idea is context, even a disturbed context still tells us something about the depositional processes as Dmack was describing and its hoped that one could "sift" through that minutia or at least describe any biases that could result.

I am not a fan of looters (like I had to say it) and for that matter some collectors.  The collectors I am talking about, while they do have a general interest and regard for the past, they are more interested in finding and displaying what they found.  I was at a local heritage day where a "collector" was working with an archaeologist to help map where he found his fluted points.  As soon as the arch. was gone he comes to me, probably because I look young and naive (?), trying to pry out mound site locations and then brag that he is about to break the record for the most clovis points found in the state that he hasn't told anyone about.

While I know everyone has some interest in the past and it is cool to find artifacts, picking them up and actively seeking places to "hunt" just to brag about records or put them in display cases where no one will learn anything important from them, even if it just says "they were here,"  is wrong in my opinion.

Post ID#19081 - replied 10/8/2011 10:53 PM


I would define looting as any unauthorized artifact collecting by the general public, avocational archaeologists, and even professionals. This applies even when the resource will be destroyed or otherwise lost. It might not always make sense, but in these modern times, the collection of artifacts for personal gain, regardless of context, is considered by professional archaeologists to be unethical.

Post ID#19082 - replied 10/9/2011 8:13 AM


Good discussion, I'm glad to see the participation, and glad DW started the thread.

Not jumping at you Fresno, but unauthorized by who? I do realize many professional archaeologists do frown on collecting, but that particular view, I believe, is not shared by the public at large. And is so reflected in the laws of the various states...and following the line of thinking that collecting an artifact that is about to be lost does no one any good. The fairly recent story of the guy who found the engraving of the mammoth would be only one example; it was found on a beach, no one can argue that it was an important find, and if he hadn't picked it up we might never have known of its existence.

I think it's unwise to try to force your own ethical viewpoint on someone else, when it's over and above that code of conduct prescribed by law. Many or most Native Americans believe that excavating burials is unethical, and some portion of them believe that any removal of artifacts from where deposited shouldn't be done. Do we find the absolutely most stringent ethical code, and follow it? If so then a case could be made that any archaeology is unethical, because some minority find it so. You're absolutely within your rights to believe as you do, and advocate that view, but I don't think that in the real world it is a workable solution. I do believe that it is the archaeologists' duty to try to protect the resource, but a realistic assessment of where the line between real damage to the record and a grey area (collecting) must be made.

Which leads to this: the current theory seems to be marginalizing and ignoring collectors, having nothing to do with them. (I seem to see this view most often in young archaeologists, and for some reason CRM professionals. The professionals I have relationships with are mostly academic and government, and for some reason they don't seem to be as hard-core anti-. No idea why.) IMO this is a huge mistake. I would guess most of the data (in the artifacts) is in the hands of the public, and collectors outnumber professionals by a large margin. They know where the sites are. Collector information is absolutely critical to Paleo research. Not utilizing a potentially important resource in doing archaeology is letting information slip through our fingers. I do understand why professionals are hesitant to work with collectors, but the activity is going to happen, you're not encouraging them. Data is always needed, and while the data that can be obtained by documenting a collection may not be optimal, it can still be valuable, and in some cases literally change the paradigm. Carson-Conn-Short, Blackwater Draw, Harney Flats, Hester, Watson Brake, Poverty Point, Page-Ladson, East Wenatchie, Anzick, Simon, many more, all reported by non- professionals.

And in the process the door is opened for education, and that should be the goal. I don't think you'll be able to change the behavior of hard-core looters in this way, but I do think you can show some collectors the damage they're doing digging in the woods, and make them see why it's wrong.

Post ID#19085 - replied 10/10/2011 8:43 AM


This is a good discussion, better than I expected. Enjoying the opinions that go beyond a conditioned response. Thanks!

Post ID#19088 - replied 10/11/2011 7:10 AM


StarRider -

  It is unfortunate that more professionals do not work with the AVOCATIONAL community - (those that are amateurs, but look to do archaeology - not just collecting to display).  Most states have some very good folks doing this kind of work and they are often the most knowledgable people you will find for their areas of interest.  I am always encouraging the professionals to contact these folks and work with them whenever possible.  I get really frustrated when a CRM "Professional" will tell me that nothing is known about an area, yet the local avocational society if full of inviduals with all kinds of knoweldge.  They should be consulted just as much as a local hisotrian, or county history books.  In fact they often know more about the local archaeology than the folks that are typically consulted in the writing of CRM reports.  Most states have organizations where these folks come together and that can be used a place to seek them out and develop contacts.  For example in NY there is the New York State Archaeological Association (NYSAA) - 

Unlike collectors alone - the NYSAA members look to do more than just pick up items for personal use.  They indiated that the Functions of the NYSAA are:
  • To vigorously promote research into the lifestyles of the early inhabitants of New York State with an emphasis toward cultural preservation.
  • To participate in excavations when necessary to preserve threatened historic and pre-historic habitats.
  • To interpret excavated cultures in a shared environment by lecture or publication in one of many scholarly journals.
  • To promote that environment by hosting an annual conference in one of the 15 communities within which NYSAA chapters are located and by publishing "The Bulletin" which is the annual journal of NYSAA 

It is their committment to these goals, and the efforts that the members of NYSAA go to to insure that data, including context, is collected and shared, which moves them from the category of Looters or Collectors into "Avocational Archaeologists". 

Post ID#19112 - replied 10/20/2011 5:49 PM


Well said Dmack, on both points.  Mmm... taphonomy, got to love the principles of site formation...and destruction for that matter (ex. the anthropogenic mechanical forces like the plowing and the natural erosive forces of water)

It's hard to get upset with a rural citizen who happens across the occasional ppk in a field or wash somewhere and feels that it would never be seen again if they didn't pick it up.  But, when you go looking for these items you know the implications of your actions because you know where there is one there could be more (or none), you know there is inherently information associated with the item and because you recognize the opposition to it.  Collectors knowingly remove items from their surroundings whether they be isolated (useful information) or associate with a site (whatever the state of disturbance).   

To say a collector is rescuing an artifact is naive because the great majority of the artifacts in North America have done just fine over the past umpteen centuries.  I have seen plenty of the same justification on sites like WeDigDixie where a man said it was like giving history a C-section (but it is actually more of a shotgun wound).  It may be legal to take the artifact from private property (and I am not sure how that applies to water features) you destroy the history...and that belongs to ALL OF US.

While I may not agree with every site that gets excavated, I agree that if it is to be done at all it should be done right.  If you have a passion for digging, by all means volunteer!  You can dig until your fingers bleed and be the first to touch an artifact for millenia, you just can't keep it.  Take pictures and brag about that.

FYI depressing discovery this week... Michie's Tavern at the foot of the Monticello Estate sells genuinely looted artifacts (complete with legal disclaimer) at their store, which is within earshot of the home of our beloved forefather Thomas Jefferson, the Father of American Archaeology.  I didn't realize obsidian was local to Virginia. 

Post ID#19119 - replied 10/22/2011 6:50 PM


In most states artifacts may be legally collected from waterways, as long as the stream doesn't meet the threshold of "navigable" or "public" waterway, with landowner permission. Most states claim jurisdiction over stream beds in the larger waterways, some without explicitly forbidding collecting. Enforcement varies widely. South Carolina has a permitting system for recreational divers. Florida formerly did have one, but it has been abolished and laws against collecting are enforced. In Alabama a high profile arrest led to an investigation of the Alabama Historical Commission that uncovered many irregularities and outright corruption, which in turn led to a loosening of the law regarding hobbyist collecting on state controlled submerged lands there. Isolated submerged artifacts aren't considered cultural resources unless they are contained on a site that is either on or is elibible for the NRHP.

My opinion, backed up by conversations with numerous professional archaeologists, is that the creek hunting isn't hurting anything. Some have accompanied me on trips, and while there is always a little hesitancy at first, once they see what is going on, and how the stuff is scattered, the reservations always disappear. It is literally nothing more than salvage. I would be more than happy to be educated as to exactly what information over and above typological, metric, material, and photographic data can be gleaned from an artifact when the actual site it came from can't be located definitively, but I don't think it's there.

As for avocational status and membership in these type or present I'm a member of two of these. I don't really consider myself an avocational, just a very interested observer. I have volunteered several times on excavations, but fieldwork really isn't something that interests me. I'd rather let the professionals do that, and then read what they found, and their conclusions.

Post ID#19123 - replied 10/26/2011 9:50 AM



Post ID#19125 - replied 10/26/2011 7:54 PM


Neat, although the arguments aren't new, I haven't seen them coalesced into one paper.

I do disagree somewhat with the characterization of the GE Mound case. The paper states:
"The case of U.S. vs. Arthur J. Gerber is intriguing because it represents a
microcosm of all of the previously discussed perspectives on cultural heritage
ownership. As a collector, Arthur Gerber and his lawyers were determined to prove
that he was legally entitled to engage in his favorite hobby. In the process, the
defense crafted a detailed argument in favor of the right of the individual to own
relics. In turn, it became the task of the prosecutor to display the gravity of Gerber’s
crime by using the rhetoric associated with the humanity and nationalistic ownership
claims to cultural heritage."

While ARPA is indeed designed to protect cultural resources, the provision that was used to prosecute Mr. Gerber was that the looting took place in violation of state law against tresspass .(For the sake of argument, let's ignore the highway permit. The prosecution of Gerber would have been much the same without it.) If the men had been on land they owned, no "nationalistic ownership" would have been in play. After the resolution of the case, the recovered artifacts weren't placed in the care of the state, but returned to GE, as GE very clearly owned them. Mr. Gerber would have been within their rights to own the relics, IF they would have been legally obtained; he does have the right to engage in his hobby, as long as he does it legally. This is more a case of theft than anything else.

Not to condone their actions, in any way. They were stealing.  

(We missed a mound?!? Does this happen a lot?)

Post ID#19136 - replied 11/4/2011 8:06 AM


That's a lot of reading right there.

Post ID#19141 - replied 11/10/2011 5:36 AM


Apparently if you can't be bothered to go out and find artifacts yourself, there's always Craigslist!

Post ID#19164 - replied 12/1/2011 9:10 PM


I know this topic may long dead, but I have not been on for a while (luckily there is work).

"My opinion, backed up by conversations with numerous professional archaeologists, is that the creek hunting isn't hurting anything. Some have accompanied me on trips, and while there is always a little hesitancy at first, once they see what is going on, and how the stuff is scattered, the reservations always disappear. It is literally nothing more than salvage. I would be more than happy to be educated as to exactly what information over and above typological, metric, material, and photographic data can be gleaned from an artifact when the actual site it came from can't be located definitively, but I don't think it's there."

Again, I must disagree.  There are a great many things that could be learned from a creek find.  Let's start with the obvious - it didn't come from down stream.  We may also reasonable assume that it didn't spill over from an adjacent drainage basin and must have come from somewhere within that system. 

No you can't say exactly how far the artifact traveled from where it was deposited, however, statistically, general flow volumes and patterns, and flood event histories could, with the help of a geologist/geoarch could statistically predict the area that it could have come from.  The source material tells you if it is local, regional, or exotic and the other non-cultural materials next to the item can tell you what other raw materials are coming from the same sources upstream. 

Pictures of the general locale give you an idea if the area has been subjected to widespread erosion or relatively undisturbed. And last, but certainly not least, there was an artifact there, and that would generally indicate there may be something else nearby (evidenced by collectors returning to favorite spots periodically after heavy rains).

I could go on, but you get the point.

On a different note, you may have a good point in there StarRider, and that is that it seems most terrestrial archaeologist don't like to get their feet wet.  Sometimes the mere sight of wetland flags or soggy looking vegetated areas, would lead people in the industry to write of whole swaths of what could be testable. 

That being said, I have personally been forced to take my off my pants to cross freezing cold creeks twice in the last month, but I scanned the sandy bottom as I waded across (no puns intended).

Interestingly, my field school site Phase I survey included stratified sampling that had low probability STP's in the swamp below the site.  It's hard to dig a hole that is under a foot of water and it didn't turn anything up, but I have to say that was an exceptionally rare case. 

Post ID#19165 - replied 12/2/2011 5:47 PM


Thank for the reasoned and well thought reply. As for the freezing water, you can get an inexpensive set of chest waders that will make that experience much less painful; Frogg Toggs makes a decent set that will hold up under light usage for around $60. A fairly large backpack is useful so that alternating between boots and waders doesn't completely impede other activities. A roll of duct tape is nice, tape the bottom of your pants so that they don't wad up in the wader legs. I have been in creeks with ice in the slack current areas with no permanent physical damage, though my mental state HAS been called into question on a few occasions.

I did leave out the most important part of the recording, which is locational data, my mistake. With that information I can record exactly the same information as a professional on an isolated creek find. As I have posted before, Google Earth can be used to get very exact locations. I have relationships with several professionals that are known to me to be trustworthy and are interested in sharing information, what I find and learn is freely shared, as long as it goes both ways. I keep extensive records of where everything is found. I seriously doubt a geoarch project on a small stream to locate the source of a handful of projectile points found in a gravel bar will be funded, especially in a remote area, where truthfully the chances of finding an intact site are dubious at best. The artifacts in the creek are prima facie evidence that the site has at least partially been disturbed. In literally uncountable hours poking around in the creeks, care to guess how many professionals I have stumbled up on, that were not there with me? This stuff will never be investigated professionally, unless we find it, and bring it to their attention (been there, done that). Truthfully, that's the way it should be. Hopefully you guys have better things to do than slosh around in a creek poking around after points that have been redeposited 20 times. We already know there were people who used Cypress Creek points made from Tallahatta Quartzite living in the Chunky River drainage, no news there. Go do some Binford stuff.

Post ID#19166 - replied 12/4/2011 7:39 AM


Speaking of remote, by hiking many miles, I have found quite a few campsites. It is doubtful, for the most part, that professionals would ever find these places, let alone do a survey there.  

Post ID#19167 - replied 12/4/2011 11:44 AM


"Speaking of remote, by hiking many miles, I have found quite a few campsites. It is doubtful, for the most part, that professionals would ever find these places, let alone do a survey there"

Who knows what areas will be developed and when. Collectors come off as a bit miffed that archaeologists can't be bothered to dig or survey whatever area you happen to be looking at, and therefore its okay for them to go at it. We can't go dig/survey wherever we feel like it. We tend to have a whole other viewpoint: only disturb sites if necessary (imminent development/human remains eroding from an embankment...), otherwise leave it be.

Post ID#19170 - replied 12/9/2011 9:35 AM


"Speaking of remote, by hiking many miles, I have found quite a few campsites. It is doubtful, for the most part, that professionals would ever find these places, let alone do a survey there"

Who knows what areas will be developed and when. Collectors come off as a bit miffed that archaeologists can't be bothered to dig or survey whatever area you happen to be looking at, and therefore its okay for them to go at it. We can't go dig/survey wherever we feel like it. We tend to have a whole other viewpoint: only disturb sites if necessary (imminent development/human remains eroding from an embankment...), otherwise leave it be.

Indeed Nomadic.

CRM, today, is a predominately project-driven (though the accusers define it as profit-driven) profession. Contracted archaeologists legally can only go (and record) where contractually allowed or obligated. That does not mean that professional archaeologists do not know of these alleged "undiscovered places."

And how would one know that a professional archaeologist had not been there? Because it wasnt dug up?

Unless one has access to the SHPO site forms one would not likely know if a particular resource had or had not been recorded. One would be surprised at what has been recorded, and where.
Back before the Reagan Administration pulled much of the federal funding for Section 110 compliance many federal properties, particularly in the nether-regions, were surveyed, at least through sampling programs, and probabilistic studies.

Post ID#19175 - replied 12/9/2011 6:25 PM


There are also many thousands of sites recorded throughout the country on private property, both by amateurs and professionals.

It is profit driven, and there's nothing inherently wrong with that. Competition does wonders for efficiency.


Post ID#19178 - replied 12/10/2011 7:50 AM


Rich, I wasn't referring to digging something up. I am talking about exploring around to discover, not to loot, even though an occasional point may be found, recorded and kept.I would imagine there are many, many thousands of "sites", just in the west, that no one has set foot in since they were last inhabited. 
You make good points and so do I. There is really no need to be argumentative about it.

Post ID#19184 - replied 12/12/2011 10:45 AM


StarRider - unfortunatley "for profit" is horrible for archaeology.  All of us that have spent time in the field have run into low ball bidders as some point.  Folks that are so interested in making a buck that they do it by cutting corners, hiring incompetent help (not bad folks, just inexperienced), doing work on the cheap, paying their employees dirt, etc. that is not efficiency, that is lack of ethics.  Granted there are some good firms that do good work and have made profits for years, but we always face the potential of bidding against someone driven by greed rather a care for doiung good work.  The classic example for me is a case I was involved in years ago.  4 firms showed up for the initial walk through with a client.  Three of us came back with bids in the $15-17,000 range, but one firm bid only about $6000.  Unfotunately, none of us got the project,  I later spoke to the applicant and discovered that he had found someone to do the job for around $2500.  I suspect that while the three higher bid firms would have done a good job and cleared a profit of maybe $500-$1000 after everything was done, crew paid etc. The winning bid probably made much less profit for themselves (more for the applicant) and paid the crew horribly - but in the end they saw the only way they could make any profit was to low ball the bid - thereby hurting the whole profession.

  Sorry to go on a short and off topic rant - but those who let themselves be driven by profit motive often do nothing but hurt those of us who are interested in doing good science - and it get me rolling.

Post ID#19185 - replied 12/12/2011 2:31 PM


The key word there was "inherently".The same points you make could be made in most any field, but shoddy work has a habit of catching up with you. What sort of quality control is there on a CRM project, we don't have anyone who audits their work and makes sure it meets any sort of minimum standard?

Post ID#19186 - replied 12/12/2011 4:59 PM


New to all the regs but would the State/Tribal Historic Preservation Officer technically be the one to review standards?

if its 106, your scope of work should be pretty involved in order to fully assess the APE, please correct me if I am wrong (like I even had to say that!), and any other concerned party that has been recognized as such should be able to butt their heads in to ensure proper work.  There are plenty of other federal and state regulations that archaeologists must abide by as well as any ethical guidelines set out by ACRA and RPA. This field is pretty self-regulating, I have seen companies burned from shotty work as well as having gone completely under.

Post ID#19187 - replied 12/13/2011 7:33 AM


"Quality Control" (at least whatever there is beyond an individual company's in house approach) is often laid on the the agency reviewers and the SHPO/THPO that they consult with under Section 106.  But that is not the only law involved.  Some states have state level parallels, where the state agency and the state level equivalent of a SHPO would play the same role, while in many areas there is only local statutes, with local town boards being the only ones to review work. So right from the start we face the issue of varying abilities to even conduct review.

  The second factor in this is that not every agency has people with much knowledge doing the reviewing.  In many instances, a state or fed agency either has a general environmental analyst responsible for "review" (and that could be someone with a hydrological, air quality, biology, etc. background - if any) and in some cases when they actually are archaeologists, they are fresh out of school with no substantial experience to call on. This generalization may not apply to the large land management agencies like BLM, but a tremendous amount of 106 work is done for permits by agency that do nothing else - and they are unlikley to have many archaeologists on staff.

A third issue - all that a reviewer has to work with is the report submitted, which can often mask poor field work.  I left the consulting side 15 years ago (after 18 years on that side) to become a SHPO reviewer, partly to address this situation.  I thought that bringing my experience to review could help upgrade the level of work done.  In some ways that has been helpful, but I still can only review the material submitted.  We rarely get the opportunity to head to the field to observe. 

Unfortunately when I do, it is not unusual to find concerns.  Among the situations I have found over the years:
field crew that have not even had fieldschool yet;
crew that have only worked on prehistoric sites, left to their own (no person in charge) on urban industrial sites;
indviduals used to working in shallow sites 12 feet down in unsafe trenches in stratified flood plain sites - yet they do not know how to identify stratification;
crew digging out feature because they have not reached subsoil yet (not realizing they are in a feature);
people using a mechanical excavator to expose features, but they have allowed the blade to cut 6 inches into subsoil;
 - or the opposite, the blade leaves spotty toposoil patches behind, which are not cleared and examined before a call of "no features here" is made; 
an individual who claims he can excavate and document nearly seventy 50 cm shovel tests  in a day all by himself;
a crew that does not even have screens to use;, or as in what may be the worst case
- an applicant who complained that he never saw the archaeologist in the field, despite a field testing report being prepared, and when we examined the field, no evidence that any holes had been dug on the entire property;
. . . etc. 
Thankfully this is not a majority of cases, but it does exist and is driven by the "for profit" mentality mentioned earlier.

Post ID#19188 - replied 12/13/2011 7:39 AM


Adding to my last post - in most states there is nothing that can be done even whena company uses poor methods.  It is rare to have certification, licensing, permitting, etc. for archaeological firms, so an applicant is abel to hire whoever they want, and reviewers can only address the material that is submitted.  In many areas, reviewers are not even able to make suggestions about who does good/poor work if an applicant calls due to threats of lawsuits.  As a result, many firms that do less than stellar work are able to stick around for a long time.

Post ID#19190 - replied 12/13/2011 11:07 AM



"Speaking of remote, by hiking many miles, I have found quite a few campsites. It is doubtful, for the most part, that professionals would ever find these places, let alone do a survey there" DesertWalker Post ID#19166 - replied 12/4/2011 7:39 AM

“Contracted archaeologists legally can only go (and record) where contractually allowed or obligated. That does not mean that professional archaeologists do not know of these alleged "undiscovered places."

And how would one know that a professional archaeologist had not been there? Because it wasnt dug up?” FireArch Post ID#19170 - replied 12/9/2011 9:35 AM

There is really no need to be argumentative about it.” DesertWalker Post ID#19178 - replied 12/10/2011 7:50 AM

Pointed I may have been, but certainly not argumentative. DW, you assert that professionals would not tread the grounds you walk, but offer no evidence for such claims. I offered that unless one tracks the site form evidence one is not likely to know what, and by whom, has been surveyed - looters on the other hand frequently do leave their calling card--the unfilled holes in the ground, the mounds of unwanted cultural items, etc. It was yourself that laid out a claim; I merely offered a refutation. Offering a counterpoint is not being argumentative (unless you wish to claim to be a former girlfriend of mine who also thought it was....).

DM and SR, I've been seeing more third-party review (by competitors within the profession) of reports issued to the BLM in SoCal recently. This stemmed, in part, from a large firm winning a contract for a transmission corridor survey and using out of state crews (even though they had SoCal offices to pull crews from) to document and report their project. The work was so poor that they had to do the whole thing over, and now the local crews have to jump through a bunch of costly hoops just to complete an inventory survey.

Post ID#19191 - replied 12/13/2011 11:15 AM


Dwarmour - Please repost your last message, it got deleted when I was editing my post.... Sorry!! (Richard)

Post ID#19193 - replied 12/13/2011 11:21 AM


I was wondering what happened, thought I was being "moderated" haha.

thanks Dmack, thats some good information you laid out.  Yeah, I know there are issues or else we wouldn't be seeing these problems.  Would you say HPO's are technically there to monitor standards and compliance, although the majority of what they are able to do is based on reports completed after work has been completed?  

I guess would delaying the hell out of a companies ability to complete a project essentially build a bad reputation with clients, since they would see that they have a poor track record of being able to complete work on time thereby costing them more money in the long run

Post ID#19194 - replied 12/13/2011 11:26 AM


I was wondering what happened, thought I was being "moderated" haha.

Dwarmour - ya, inadvertently you were. Oops.

Post ID#19196 - replied 12/13/2011 2:07 PM


Interesting, I would have thought there would be a good bit more regulation involved. It would seem the SHPO office would have someone doing random checks on projects in the field. Perhaps allowing those who do substandard work to go back and get it right on their own dime would be a useful alternative, though there's not much way to do an excavation over again.

Post ID#19199 - replied 12/13/2011 3:09 PM


Actually the regs are pretty thin on what the SHPO is supposed to do, which has led a number of SHPOs over the years to make up a lot of things they are not necessarily required to do, let alone make others do - for extensive insight on this issue read Tom King's works, or browse through his posts in the ACRA-L list serve; very informative.

The SHPO, in essence, is supposed to ensure that Federally responsible projects do not adversely affect the State's cultural resources - they are to see that NHPA regs are carried out, and act as intermediary between the Fed Lead Agency and the project proponent, insuring that any and all identified Cultural Resources have been identified and that adverse effects are avoided or properly mitigated. DM, as one who has worked in NY SHPO, will certainly have something more concrete on this.

Post ID#19202 - replied 12/14/2011 6:29 AM


StarRider - it would great to be able to random checks (if that was the SHPO's job) but when you consider the workload - its just not possible - for example - NY currently has 3 reviewers looking at at least 1000 projects a year spread over the entire state.  Most times just keeping up with the paperwork that flows into the office is more than a full time job. 

Part of the problem, as I mentioned above, is that many of the federal (and state) agencies don't have anyone on staff that knows what to do, so many of them use the SHPO to handle things under the banner of "consultation" that they should really be doing themselves (i.e developing MOAs and PAs, making determinations on NR eligibility, etc.)  The SHPO role in the regs is actually to consult, and either concur or not, and enter into discussions on how to proceed - but ultimately it is up to the involved agency to make final decisions.  Typically they will do whatever the SHPO says since they do not have the internal expertise and recognize that SHPO's do. 

Looking at FireArchs comment about Tom King - Tom is often right about what should happen - but -as he realizes I believe - even as he argues for it to change - in reality the SHPOs doing what they do gets the agencies through the process. Even if not exactly as they should (lots of public comment issues that are not always addressed well that SHPOs have no role in).  It would be great if agencies really lived up to what they are supposed to do, but given the current atmosphere of cutting government positions - I doubt that will happen anytime soon.

One thing FireArch has wrong though - it is not anyone's job to insure that "any and ALL" resources are identified.  What is supposed to happen is to insure that a good faith effort to identify resources has occured - to insure that any and all are identified, would require surveys at much closer intervals, ....and a lot more that is just economically not feasible.  However, a good faith effort should identify most rescources - that is why many states use the 50 foot testing interval as a base - studies done ...maybe 20 years ago (sorry I do not recall the reference - and the numbers to follow are as I remember, could be off a bit)  testing at 100 foot interval finds about 10% of sites, at 50 foot intervals about 75% and at 25 foot about 80%.  This showed that the best "bang for the buck" came from the 50 foot interval.  Clearly the smaller sites are being missed even at 25 feet - and that is something to keep in mind when designing a study for any specific area (if all you suspect are very small sites - adjust your interval!) while the 100 foot interval is likely only to find the larges of sites.  50 foot provides a good faith effort that should find all the large, some of the small and probably most, if not all, of the medium size sites.  The regs do have a provision for any significant sites that are missed during the survey phase and found under construction - unexpected finds - but allow for a different approach to them that minimizes delays.  However, to have "unexpected finds" you need to have shown a good faith effort in the first place.

A second issue that is often misunderstood relates to the idea of  "adverse effects are avoided or properly mitigated" .  In reality an agency does not have to do either - What the law says is that an agency must consider the effects, consult with the public and SHPO/THPO on ways to avoid or mitigate adverse effects - and then decide what to do.  As long as they have consulted, they could decide to just rip through the site anyway - however, if they choose to disagree with a SHPO, then the HEAD of the AGENCY (Top person in the whole shebang) must consult with the Advisory Council about why (including providing copies of all documentation to that point and justifying the decision)- Ultimately, even if the Council disagrees, an agency can do what it wants.  The check on that type of action is that most folks do not want to have to tell someon appointed by the President that they need to justify a decision made by a lower lever bureaucrat - so in most cases they are happy to follow SHPO recommendations about avoidance/mitigation).

I hope some of  you find this helpful.  Reminds me of a few posts/surveys we have had in the past about "who or How many of you - have taken a class dedicated to understanding the CRM laws, regs and process" - which all too often comes back as -very few.  I keep trying to get Academic programs to include such a class - rather than as a day or two in a more general class - but without much success.

Post ID#19203 - replied 12/14/2011 8:40 AM


By way of rebuttal:

I did say "insuring that any and all identified Cultural Resources have been identified" not every single possible.... This is why we state in our reports "this is where we did our records searches, this is what we found when we did our searches, this is where we surveyed, this was our survey interval, this is what we found when we surveyed...."

DM is properly correct in noting that SHPO does not enforce mitigation standards, for some things mitigation is infeasible, and that is allowed. BUT if the SHPO has authority to "issue" concurrence they can also find whether they believe mitigation is adequate, i.e., concur (note that I did not state that the SHPO ensured that they were carried out). What the FLA (Federal Lead Agency) does with the information, as DM rightly points out - and I have also in other discussions - is up to the FLA. This is how the BLM has been able to essentially ignore most public comment and consultations and allow really bad projects all over the West.

Post ID#19204 - replied 12/14/2011 5:48 PM


I appreciate you guys taking the time to offer some explanation, but I still fail to understand why there isn't a third party involved to oversee. If the ultimate end for the CRM firm is profit (and it must be, if the firm is to survive), then sanctions that affect that profit are the best way to ensure an adequate level of diligence.

In the industry I work in, we have a thing called "backcharge", which is not generally a good result. We have an extensive QA auditing process, but the bottom line is that if the product or service doesn't meet the level required it can put a company out of business.

Post ID#19209 - replied 12/15/2011 7:54 AM


Firearch, you seem to ridicule or argue with me every time I post

My meaning has been turned around here, the way you state it.

"DW, you assert that professionals would not tread the grounds you walk, but offer no evidence for such claims. "

Anyway, this thread has been majorly hijacked like only DM can it really doesn't matter.

Post ID#19210 - replied 12/15/2011 8:14 AM


I would love to see a poll on how many believe that I got your words and meaning "turned around" or that I am ridiculing you (Arguing? No to that too: I'm offering counterpoints).

As to DM hijacking the thread, no, not really. Threads here are dynamic. One question may lead to another just like in a real, live, Socratic discussion. That's a good thing. Just because some folks on other BBSs like to have every topic strictly compartmentalized doesn't mean that every other BBS has to do the same. And as any discussion may wander on or off topic you can bring it back just as well as anyone else could. 
  : )

Post ID#19211 - replied 12/15/2011 5:19 PM


You posted your topic in the forum of a website created by and for archaeologists... what did you expect us to come back at you with? If you want answers you like, post it in a collectors forum - but then, I suppose it wouldn't lead to much discussion...

Post ID#19212 - replied 12/15/2011 5:25 PM


Run a poll, you have a forum of professionals on your side.  I did not say: "professionals would not tread the grounds you walk". I said: "It is doubtful, for the most part, that professionals would ever find these places, let alone do a survey there". 

I'll bring it back by saying that non-professionals have contributed much to prehistoric awareness, and should be respected.


Post ID#19233 - replied 12/29/2011 5:33 PM


Ran up on this by accident, thought it was pertinent to this discussion..

"Consultant List

Effective August 1, 2001, MDAH-SHPO will maintain a consultant list comprised solely of archaeologists and companies who meet the Secretary of Interior’s minimum
Standards for archaeology. Also effective August 1, 2001, MDAH-SHPO will only accept reports (Phases I, II and III) resulting from section 106 or antiquities law
projects from individuals or companies who meet these standards. Federal and State archaeologists performing cultural resource work for their respective agencies,
however, are exempt from this policy. Furthermore, a policy regarding probationary and permanent removal from the consultant list has also been devised.

Removal From List

Each consultant working in Mississippi is responsible for adhering to MDAH-SHPO’s “Guidelines for Archaeological Investigations and Reports in Mississippi.” When
MDAH-SHPO receives a deficient report, the report will be “placed on hold,” and the appropriate Federal agency, applicant, or licensee will be notified of its
deficiencies. When the deficiencies are corrected, the report will receive clearance.

If a consultant’s CRM reports are placed on hold three (3) times within one year, MDAH-SHPO will notify the consultant in writing and provide the consultant an
opportunity for a hearing before the SHPO, Deputy SHPO, Chief Archaeologist, and Review and Compliance Officer before further actions, if necessary, are taken.
If, at the conclusion of the hearing, a satisfactory explanation for the deficiencies has not been presented, the consultant’s name will be removed from the list,
and his/her reports will not be accepted by MDAH-SHPO for one (1) year. At the end of one year, the consultant may submit a written request to MDAH-SHPO to have
his/her name reinstated to the list.

Permanent Removal From List

Serious ethical and legal violations will result in the permanent removal of a consultant from the list and in the permanent refusal of MDAH-SHPO to accept the
consultant’s reports. Again, the consultant will be notified of the problem/s in writing and provided an opportunity for a hearing before the SHPO, Deputy SHPO,
Chief Archaeologist, and Review and Compliance Officer to appeal the permanent removal."

Post ID#19234 - replied 12/30/2011 4:47 AM


Thanks for posting that StarRider, here in NC our OSA doesn't state whether or not they will deny the contractors ability to complete the review processes or not.  They do say that it will result in delays, which would be expected if the report is missing something.  The NC OSA does have a disclaimer on their consulting list saying they will not attest to the qualifications of the firms and basically that the client needs to do their homework.

I have heard that a company was "kicked out" of the state (NC) for majorly neglecting proper methods, almost leading to the destruction of an important coastal site.  

To each state their own.  Wasn't there talk about compiling a running list of links for state compliance guidelines?

Post ID#19235 - replied 12/30/2011 9:01 AM


This is a real problem for most states where there really is no ability to "not accept" "delist" or take any other blanket type action against those that do not do high level work.  The legal types have looked into this and the answer is that unless your state actually has some such language in its law (as Massachusetts does!) the SHPO can not simply refuse to accept a report, or "ban" a firm or person.  I am not sure how the law reads in Mississippi, but I know other states have looked at similar approaches and end up having to give them up when challenged in court.  The only thing most states can do is set standards - by which each individual report will be examined, and then stick to them for everyone.  This often does result in reports being sent back for more work, revisions, or even for more field work - and to SHPOs being bad mouthed to clients as ...umm...all sorts of bad things I can't repeat here.  Of course firms that do good work rarely have this problem.

  In contrast, when the laws were written in Mass. they actually included provisions that allow the Agency to determine if someone should be allowed a permit to conduct work - and without the permit nothing is accepted.  Back when I was running field projects I remember when we first ventured into Mass.  I was working for a mid sized firm with a great reputation and a very experienced and dedicated staff who was more interested in doing good work than just getting the next check (and we had great health and retirement plans too! - a great place to work).  Despite a 25 year track record of great work, B.S. - the head of their SHPO - put our firm through several months of documenting our abilities before she would allow us to take on a large project.  As much of a pain as that was - it was nice to know that such care about the work actually existed.

This also leads into the idea of State Lists of archaoelogical firms.  Many applicants often go looking for a published list to select from - but in many states they have simply stopped publishing lists - since they can not insure that any name on it will do good work.  Despite the disclaimers mentioned in a previous post - the legal types usually recommend just not publishing a list, as those disclaimers may not hold up in court.  Another approach was to try and be selective about who got put on the list, but then the lawsuits came from those not listed, arguing that leaving them off was an infringement on their rights and ability to make a living.  Many states got fed up with dealing with suits on either side and just stopped publishing lists. 

Picking up Dwarmour's idea of links to state guidance:
Links to the legislation that applies in NY can be found at

The full STANDARDS for CRM archaeology were developed in 1994 by the New York Archaeological Council (NYAC), accepted by the SHPO in 1995 and can be found at

Links to a variety of specific guidance developed by the SHPO in recent years can be found at .  these including a link to a 2005 update to the full Standards document - and guidance on various types of specific projects  where some variation has been built in,( i.e Wind Farms, Restore Grants, and how to proceed if human remains are found).

A handbook on the process/standards that was designed for the layperson (your clients/public) was published by the New York Archaeological Council and can be found at

Post ID#19241 - replied 1/7/2012 7:40 AM


The Mother of Indiana Jones
By Forrest Fenn

This article appeared in Anthropology News, a monthly newspaper that is mailed to 4,800 subscribers. It was written in response to an article written by Dr. Joe Watkins "Salvaging our Ethics." (Anthropology News 41:3:26-27) It also appeared in Ohio Archaeologist, Summer, 2000.

The mass media in this country well know the rules. When an archaeological discovery is made, all but the most compelling stories go to the bottom of the page, making room for what many Americans love most, the sight of an ancient object that gives an exciting hint about their past. How many times have the stories of Mesa Verde and Spiro Mound been told? We always thirst for more. 

For many decades our museums have purchased prehistoric artifacts or had them donated by those with the far vision to know that otherwise our public displays would stand in need. Good examples abound: the Field Museum in Chicago, which houses the original private collection of Marshall Field, and the wonderful collection of pre-Columbian gold and jade objects that was purchased by Ray Diekemper and given to the Texas Tech Museum over the objections of the curator. 

Was the Chicago Art Institute correct in purchasing the most significant Mimbres cave objects ever discovered, a ritual cache of brilliantly colored and feathered snake and mountain lion fetishes and human effigies? Of course they were! The Society of American Archaeology (SAA) hates to see commercial traffic in archaeological material, yet one must ask which is more important - the education of the public or the perceived ethics of the SAA? 

Professional archaeological societies have long looked for easy marks to blame for the escalating interest in collecting artifacts, and their editorials have accused collectors for many of the problems found in their own science. United thinking in the collecting community (collectors outnumber archaeologists by an estimated 250 to one) is that this emphasis is inappropriate. Shadowy excuses mask what everyone knows to be true: it is the written reports and photographs of both artifacts in situ and museum displays that hone the tools of those who would vandalize archaeological sites looking for what they have seen in print or on exhibit. 

The premise is that those looted objects are sold to collectors, which promotes further looting. To a degree that is true, albeit a tertiary reason. Nevertheless, it is our museums that make these items desirable. At arrowhead shows across the country, the sale of books about prehistoric artifacts is second in total sales, surpassed only by that of stone tools. While no collector condones illegal excavations, they all know that logic defies the tenet that prehistoric artifacts should not be privately collected. If museums routinely purchase these items, is it unethical for individuals to do the same? I don't think so. 

Over 1400 people attended the important "Clovis and Beyond" conference held last October (1999) in Santa Fe. The 62 speakers, selected for being the best in their fields, included two members of the National Academy of Science (NAS), the present President and three past presidents of the SAA, and the heads of anthropology departments in universities and museums across the Americas. When the conference was over, Dr. Joe Watkins, who was also a speaker and Chair of the American Anthropological Association Ethics Committee and member of the SAA Ethics Committee, wrote an editorial in the Anthropology News (March 2000) titled, "Salvaging Our Ethics." He questioned whether he should have attended the conference at all because it had been put on by me, a collector and avocational archaeologist. He said I had been "accused" of "mining artifacts" in a pre-contact pueblo that I own. For Dr. Watkins, mining artifacts refers to the excavation of an archaeological site by someone without a Ph.D. in archaeology. He asked the question. "How did the collector get involved in the "Clovis and Beyond" conference in the first place?" a question that speaks volumes about where the SAA seems to be headed. 

Since he called me by name, I feel compelled to examine the question. In the organization of the conference, I represented the Museum of New Mexico, Laboratory of Anthropology. Other co-sponsors were the Smithsonian Institution and the Center for the Study of the First Americans at Oregon State University. Maybe Dr. Watkins' question should be asked a little differently: "Why did the collector feel inclined to originate and organize the meeting?" Where were all of the archaeologists, and why did none of them see the need and step forward?" The last such conference, from which the term "Clovis point" emerged, was held in Santa Fe in 1941. In the ensuing years, giant steps have been made in our knowledge of the peopling of the Americas, knowledge that everyone agreed needed to be presented and discussed. Dr. Watkins seemed to be saying, "We don't have time to do it, and I don't want you to either". I am reminded of the Rolls Royce that pulled up to the Ritz Plaza Hotel, and no one got out. 

Because Dr Watkins listed Indiana University as his academic affiliation for the conference, I thought it would be interesting to look at that school's archaeological record. Ironically, the archaeology and anthropology departments at Indiana University would not exist were it not for the long-term vision and direct financial support of a single individual, an artifact collector and amateur archaeologist Eli Lilly (Griffin, 1971). 

There was neither an archaeology program nor an anthropology department at any of the colleges or universities in the state of Indiana until Lilly became interested in collecting artifacts (Griffin, 1971), It is important to emphasize that the same is true of many other states as well. While Lilly insisted on anonymity throughout his life, it is now useful to refer to him by name so the reader can understand the exact nature of his contributions and the role he played in the development of American archaeology, a particularly important point because his contributions have been omitted from the formal "History of American Archaeology" (Willey and Sabloff, (1974,1980). 

In the summer of 1930, when Lilly visited the home of J.P. Dolan, a lawyer and artifact collector in Syracuse, Indiana, he was struck by the quality of workmanship of the artifacts that Dolan displayed in his "Indian cabinet" (Griffin, 1971). The sight of Dolan's collection stimulated Lilly's innate curiosity and a never-ending passion for artifacts and "digging" archaeology. With the help of Thomas Hendricks, an Indianapolis buyer of antiquities, Lilly began to acquire a personal collection from both various other collectors and his own excavations. He quickly amassed one of the most important collections in the United States. This activity brought him into close association with numerous artifact dealers, fellow collectors, and amateur archaeologists, including Glenn A. Black. 

In 1931, when Black led Lilly on a field trip to Angel Mounds (the largest known Mississippian site in Indiana), Lilly was both impressed with the vastness of the village and cemetery and was struck by Black's self-taught knowledge and enthusiasm. Although Black never attended college, like Lilly he was well read and had been collecting artifacts for many years. Lilly realized that the only way archaeology was going to advance would be if he funded a full-time person such as Glenn Black to devote all of his efforts to archaeology. Lilly initiated efforts to acquire the title to Angel Mounds. After federal, state, and local governmental sources failed to acquire the site, Eli Lilly provided the funds to purchase it. Black moved into a house on the site and, with funding from Lilly, devoted the rest of his life to excavating it. 

Dr. Watkins' position is particularly curious in the light of the fact that he is currently seeking the directorship of the Glenn A. Black Laboratory of Archaeology at the University of Indiana, a position endowed by a collector and untrained excavator. 

The program at Indiana University began when Lilly endowed a fellowship in anthropology in 1932. Black began teaching the archaeology course in 1944, and with many generous donations, a formal department of anthropology was created in 1947. Lilly also funded archaeology laboratories at the University of Chicago and Ohio State University and endowed a fellowship at the University of Michigan. Its first recipient was James B. Griffin, the "dean" of American archaeology. Lilly provided full-time support for Griffin between 1932 and 1941, and continued to fund his research efforts thereafter. It is interesting to note that the lifelong support from this private collector was completely ignored in the Midcontinental Journal of Archaeology's 1997 "Tribute to James B. Griffin." Griffin would have been the first to admit that he would not have had a career without the support of Eli Lilly, who also funded 11 presidents of the SAA: A.V. Kidder (1937-1939), Will C. Mckern (1940 -1941), Glenn A. Black (1941-1942), Carl E. Guthe (1945 -1946), Frank H.H. Roberts, Jr. (1950 -1951), James B. Griffin (1951-1952), William A. Ritchie (1956 -1957), George I. Quimby (1957-1958), James A. Ford (1963 -1964), Albert C. Spalding (1964 -1965), and Richard "Scotty" MacNeish (1971-1972). Dr. Watkins seems to be saying that these distinguished archaeologists were unethical for associating with and accepting the money and leadership services of a collector - that Eli Lilly's money was tainted. 

Scotty MacNeish, a participant in the "Clovis and Beyond" conference and the most recent recipient of the SAA's Fryxell Award, wrote in a letter to James B. Griffin on December 14, 1970, "Mr. Lilly's interest in archaeology, particularly in the Midwest, and continued support of it were responsible for many, if not most of the advances that were made in that region from the twenties to the seventies. This was not just the direct donating of funds for field excavations and publications, but it was, more importantly, the support and encouragement he gave to so many students and scholars in the field of archaeology" (Griffin 1971). 

Midwestern archaeology has never recovered from the loss of Eli Lilly. Since his death, academic training and employment opportunities in Midwestern archaeology have become limited (Schott, 2000). Lilly provided funding to students and scholars for the scientific study of pottery, stone and copper sources used in the manufacture of artifacts, geophysics, absolute dating, artifact classification, and linguistics. He also sponsored conferences and excavations, and was the underwriter of numerous publications. Many of these publications, including Prehistoric Antiquities of Indiana, featured illustrations of artifacts from his personal collection, some of which he had excavated himself. 

The argument might be made: that was then, this is now. In other words, the days of Eli Lilly are ancient history. But are they?

Where is the money for archaeology coming from today? In the past decade a number of artifact collectors have supported the positions and research efforts of many contemporary archaeologists including Chris Hill, Robson Bonnichsen, David Meltzer (a mentor of Joe Watkins), Don Fowler, C. Vance Haynes, and George Frison, to name a few. A Colorado collector has donated more than four million dollars for archaeological research to institutions including the University of Wyoming, The George Frison Institute, the Museum of the Rockies, Montana State University, Oregon State University, The Center for the Study of the First Americans, the University of Nevada, and Joe Watkins' alma mater, Southern Methodist University. 

At the same time, grants from the National Science Foundation for applied research in anthropology have dwindled almost 78% from $2,630,000 in 1973 to $583,000 in 1997 (National Science Foundation/SRS, Survey of Federal Funds for Research and Development). Furthermore, these figures do not reflect either the decreasing value of the dollar since 1973 or the fact that most of that money goes for research in anthropology, not archaeology. If, as Dr. Watkins implies, it is unethical to receive support from or co-mingle with artifact collectors, what is left? Maybe the only completely "ethical" refuge is government archaeology and Cultural Resource Management (CRM). But is it? 

Each year, state and federal governments spend millions of taxpayers dollars to survey, excavate, protect, preserve, conserve, and curate the archaeology of the United States. What does the average American citizen get for his money? Most of the results appear as unpublished contract reports written in an oppressive technical jargon that the public cannot decipher. To make matters worse, our nation's museums are becoming filled with literally hundreds of tons of dirt, fire-cracked rock, bones and broken pottery bits from the CRM and government archaeology. 

In an investigative report conducted by the United States Army Corps of Engineers (Trimble and Meyers 1991), they found that the status of most physical facilities used to store artifacts and archaeological records from government-funded excavations did not conform to the minimum federal standards for archaeological curation. Many artifacts and paper records were found in substandard facilities scattered on floors, while elsewhere they appeared in cardboard boxes in cluttered storage areas subject to unauthorized entry, leaky roofs, and lacking either fire suppression systems or pest control programs. 

Each year millions of taxpayer dollars are spent to recover artifacts and produce records that are later destroyed or damaged because archaeologists improperly pack, over pack, stack boxes without lids, or place them in areas with excessive levels of humidity, water, or active rodent populations. In these situations, provenience labels and brown, craft paper field bags rapidly deteriorate. In many cases, artifacts and site records not only go unprotected, but also remain uncataloged for decades. The Army Corps of Engineers (Trimble and Meyers 1991) found that the substandard record management at government-funded institutions resulted in the loss of information that impaired the usefulness of artifact collections acquired from CRM. 

I have often wondered why a professional archaeologist who excavates (the site is necessarily destroyed in the process) is viewed with respect while an avocational archaeologist is accused of mining for artifacts. It has been estimated that between 60 and 75 percent of work completed in the field by professional archaeologists is not reported. A comprehensive search for statistics on this problem has revealed nothing. Everyone knows the majority of field work goes unpublished but no one wants to admit it. The archaeological community has really buried that one. And worse, many times the field notes are closely guarded secrets, lest someone else should use the information. 

"Too often archaeologists have failed to match the scale of their efforts in the field with the scale of their publication effort. Archaeology is justified only if the information is later made available to the public" (Sharer and Ashmore 1993:156). "Publication is the ultimate responsibility of all archaeologists and, like all other scientists, their results must be made available to public audiences. This obligation lies at the very heart of professional archaeological responsibility." (Sharer and Ashmore 1993:599). "Unfortunately, communication to the public is the most neglected aspect of professional archaeology" (Sharer and Ashmore 1993:599). However, in many cases the work completed in the field by avocational archaeologists is reported in local archaeology society journals. So it is legitimate to ask which is worse, a professional who excavates correctly and fails to report the findings, or an amateur whose techniques are less than perfect but reports on his work? 

While everyone is interested in historic preservation, it would appear that some have wandered around the bend. Jon L. Gibson and Joe Sanders, both archaeologists from Louisiana, wrote in the SAA bulletin (vol. 11, no. 5), "We suggest that just because sites happen to be on private property should not make them privately owned. We also maintain that archaeologists must challenge one of American's most precious rights - the right to do as you please to your own land - if we are going to have any chance of preserving our diminishing heritage." 

As if that were not embarrassing enough, they went on, "First, we must press for legislation that places an archaeological lien on private property with significant archaeological sites. Second, archaeologists must be the ones to choose which sites are to be protected. We can not entrust this selection to a governmental board or legislated process, which would give land owners the final word on whether a site will be protected." Now I think I remember what started the French Revolution! 

But that's not all: "Archaeologists must be more than just stewards of the past. They must serve as the public conscience. They must act on society's behalf even when society is insensitive or objects." EVEN IF SOCIETY OBJECTS? Well, I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. In my faxed response (which was published in a subsequent SAA Bulletin), I pointed out that most Americans would probably agree that private property rights guaranteed under the Constitution related to illegal search and seizure are more important than archaeology and historic preservation combined. 

Where would one suspect that museums get the artifacts that are being displayed? Who are the major supporters and contributors to those institutions: professional archaeologists, the United States Government, or the private collectors? Why is it that collectors are discredited by archaeologists for purchasing artifacts, but celebrated when their collections are donated to an institution? Does that transformation not seem strange and hypocritical? 

So the wedge of discontent is driven ever deeper between archaeologists and the collecting community by ill-thought-out or unfortunate comments published in private-subscription journals. Both Dr. Watkins (a Native American and political archaeologist) who speaks officially for the SAA and publicly preaches the rhetoric of cooperation with all groups, and two Louisiana rogue revolutionaries, who would commandeer the law because they think our elected officials cannot be trusted to do the right thing, are defining new and radical directions. 

While most archaeologists understand that cooperation among all parties is beneficial and productive, there are those who are loud and overly zealous. Extremists seem to be floating to the surface everywhere, collectively revealing the soft underbelly of archaeology. An item that appeared in "The American Committee for Preservation of Archaeological Collections" newsletter, (March 2000), amply illustrates the trend: "It seems a planned and approved exhibit of Clovis projectile points, that was to coincide with the Santa Fe conference last October and be a part of it, was cancelled at the Museum of Fine Arts. A local archaeologist apparently complained that Clovis material should not be exhibited in an art museum, and he persuaded a Native American to claim that Clovis points are sacred and should not be displayed at all. The museum director (Stuart Ashman) folded under the pressure and the exhibit did not take place. (Ed. Note: Clovis points certainly ARE works of art and would make a splendid exhibit in any art museum.") In canceling the show (titled "Points of View") meetings were held behind closed doors, and the names of the dissidents remain closely guarded secrets. Ironically, the same museum currently has an exhibition that features "Clovis" points recently knapped by a pueblo Indian. 

As another example of extremism, an archaeologist from the University of New Mexico said he would resign from the SAA because its president was a speaker at the "Clovis and Beyond" conference. He evidently objected to privately owned Clovis materials being displayed at the conference along side those held in the public trust, including collections from the Peabody Museum, The Smithsonian Institution, The Denver Natural History Museum, the University of Texas, and many others. 

Public money for archaeological research is rapidly becoming an endangered species, necessitating an increased dependence on private funding, much of which comes either directly from collectors or is heavily influenced by them. There are things professional archaeologists can do to help themselves. Here is some advice and a few observations from Indiana Jones to the SAA 

1. I am born of you and am nourished by your lectures, your reports, and your beautiful museum displays. Thank you for giving me life. 

2. Leave the jargon at home. Your future depends on increased public interest, and that's where your future funding will originate. If 14-year-old students don't understand your report, you're doing it wrong. And incidentally, color in books is OK. 

3. Stop whining about what amateurs are doing. You have bigger problems at home, like unreported field work, for starters. 

4. Collectors are not going away, and you're heavily outnumbered. Get used to it and learn from them. 

5. Don't get carried away with your importance. Private property rights come first, now and always. 

6. If it's a Canis Latrans bone, give us a break; say it's part of a coyote. 

7. Your peers already know you're smart, so write for the rest of us sometime. We'll buy your book and read it; they probably won't 

8. Lighten up. It's not as if dreaded diseases are being cured or famines being prevented by archaeology. You should be enjoying it more. 

Barker, Alex W. 2000 Ethics, E-Commerce, and the Future of the Past. Society for American Archaeology Bulletin 18:1:15. 

Bonnichsen, Robson, Michele Punke, Charmay Allred, Kenneth B. Tankersley, Forrest Fenn, and Mark Mullins 1999 Clovis and Beyond: A Peopling of the Americas Conference, Abstracts, Collections, and Exhibits, Santa Fe. 

Brose David S., William Green, and Mark Seeman 1997 Tribute to James B. Griffin (1905-1997) Midcontinental Journal of Archaeology 22:2:125-158. 

Clovis and Beyond conference WebPages 

Fenn, Forrest 1994 Letters to the Editor. Society for American Archaeology Bulletin 12:2:3. 

Fenn, Forrest Personal communication with the archaeologist who received the call. 

Frison, George C. 2000 Progress and Challenges. Scientific American Discovering Archaeology, January/February, pp. 40-42. 

Gibson, Jon L., and Joe Sanders 1993 The Death of the Sixth Ridge at Poverty Point: What Can We Do? Society for American Archaeology Bulletin 11:5:7-9. 

Griffin, James B. 1971 A Commentary on an Unusual Research Program in American Anthropology, in Dedication of the Glenn A. Black Laboratory of Archaeology. Indiana University Press, Bloomington. 

Leach, Jeff D. 1999 Clovis and Beyond. Discovering Archaeology, September/October, p. 28. 

Lilly, Eli 1937 Prehistoric Antiquities of Indiana. Indiana Historical Society, Indianapolis.
Museum of New Mexico WebPages. 

National Science Foundation/SRS 1999 Survey of Federal Funds for Research and Development. 

Ray, Louis L. 1941 Symposium on Folsom-Yuma Problems. 48:10:234-235. 

Sharer, Robert S., and Wendy Ashmore 1993 Archaeology: Discovering Our Past, Mayfield Publishing, Mountain View. 

Shott, Michael J. 2000 Geographic Emphasis In American Archaeological Practice. Society for American Archaeology 18:2:22-27. 

Society for American Archaeology 2000 Past Presidents of SAA. Program of the 65th Annual Meeting, p.121. 

Trimble, Michael K., and Thomas B. Meyers 1991 Saving the Past From the Future: Archaeological Curation in the St. Louis District. US Army Corps of Engineers, St. Louis District. 

Watkins, Joe 2000 Salvaging Our Ethics. Anthropology News 41:3:26-27. 

Watkins, Joe, K. Anne Pyburn, and Pam Cressey 2000 Community Relations: What the Practicing Archaeologist Needs to Know to Work Effectively with Local and/or Descendant Communities, in Teaching Archaeology in the Twenty-First Century, edited by Susan J. Bender and George S. Smith, Society for American Archaeology, Washington DC. 

Willey, Gordon R., and Jeremy A. Sabloff 1974 A History of American Archaeology, First Edition, Thames and Hudson Ltd., London.

Post ID#19242 - replied 1/7/2012 7:46 PM


To provide a bit of levity to this important and interesting discussion....was re-reading A Thief Of Time and came across Tony Hillerman's  definition of a "looter."

"She's an anthropologist,"  "You translate the word from academic into English and that's what it means: ruins looter, one who robs graves, preferably old ones.  Well-educated person who steals artifact in dignified manner."  "Somebody else does it , they call 'em vandals.  That's the word for the competition.  Somebody gets there first, gets off with the stuff before the archaeologists can grab it , they call 'em Thieves of Time."

As only Hillerman could seem to so well place in context of a murder mystery on the Navaho Reservation....actually, this may not be too far off from some of the posts. 

Post ID#19249 - replied 1/11/2012 7:57 PM


Fenn makes some good points. I still contend that archaeology done on the public dime and not published for the public is a rip-off, and publishing on JSTOR does not count. Redact some stuff if need be, but put it out.
An essay about the dark side of collecting might exist somewhere on the net LOL. There is plenty of blame on both sides, the polarization between the extremes on each side is much worse than even five years ago.

As for Gibson and Saunders, good luck. Both of these guys are highly respected archaeologists in Louisiana, I was there when Joe was presented the James A. Ford Award, it's a pretty big deal. Seems like a nice guy. The background of that little fiasco was unfortunate, but it was as much a result of miscommunication as malice. The landowner wound up donating that part of the site.

But back to the OT.

"Archaeologists rarely seek out sites in areas of high erosion. Unless a survey is planned for areas susceptible to high erosion, the discovery of sites will be left to chance. Unfortunately, because erosion is ongoing, this means that many sites can be lost before they are found. Since artefacts are only of use to archaeologists when they are in situ, anything eroded from its primary context holds little archaeological information."

"Mechanized agriculture has homogenized the upper-most portionsof many sites, whereas deep plowing and land leveling for agricultural purposes has resulted in the total destruction of many others."
Medford, L. D. 1972. "Agricultural destruction of archeological sites innortheast Arkansas". Arkansas Archeological Survey, ResearchSeries, 3: 41-82.

"An isolated find is defined as no more than two historic or prehistoric artifacts found within a 30-meter radius. Isolated finds are, by definition, not considered eligible for listing on the NRHP. For cases where an isolated find is unique, and potentially may be considered eligible for inclusion in the NRHP, it should be defined as a site. Deposits of cultural artifacts that have no integrity, such as road fill, stream gravels, or other situations where artifacts clearly are re-deposited, also should be considered isolated finds."

As an aside, is it legal to collect submerged isolated finds from state-controlled waterways in MA?

Post ID#19629 - replied 6/17/2012 9:18 AM


A few years ago I watched a high end housing development completely destroy and cover a site on a bluff above a this looting?

Post ID#19632 - replied 6/18/2012 5:24 PM


I suppose the distinction between "looter,' and "responsible collector" is mostly down to whether or not a collection was obtained in ways that comport with the relevant laws in a given jurisdiction. I'm not in any rush to buddy up with either group. That said, I'm not so sententious about it that I refuse to document materials that were at best "collected," and quite possibly "looted."

In the field, I always try to talk to as many people as I can, and there's almost always that one person that everyone in a community tells you to go see about archaeological materials. Inevitably, that person is a "collector," and is just as leery of my intentions as I am of theirs. I've seen everything from coffee cans filled with lithics and potsherds, to display case filled rooms with extensive notes about each artifact's provenience (or, at least, provenance for items that weren't personally collected).

I'm not oblivious to the allure of chronological distance; it isn't a new phenomenon, and it isn't restricted to the modern, industrialized West. On the other hand, it is the spatial relationships between artifacts and features that thrill me. My relationship to a potsherd would vary considerably if I knew that it came from a sand mound, rather than a shell heap; or, that it came from a probable cooking hearth, rather than a probable kiln.

Clearly, I'd rather not see artifacts that are in situ, or in a primary depositional context, disturbed. However, unless the disturbance is going to be accompanied by thorough recordation of artifacts and features, and careful curation of recovered artifacts, soil samples, etc., then I'd rather see the site stabilized with some geo-tarp, and left until it can be properly documented.

That does leave those pesky secondary depositional contexts to contend with; and, I suppose that's the crux of this discussion. There is a point where an artifact is beyond reverse-modeling the c-transforms and n-transforms that brought it to its present location; of course, as was noted earlier, it's still an artifact with a place in a material culture sub-system. At that point, if it were just a matter of accepting locational data and metrics made available to researchers, for artifacts that wouldn't make much difference to existing type collections, then it wouldn't seem to matter much. Unfortunately, if it later turns out that it might add something, even by being one amongst many in a large use-wear study, then it's going to be mighty difficult to visit everyone that has their little piece of the dataset crammed into a coffee can that has been rolling around on the back porch for the last twenty odd years (or more).

Then again, I'd say the same about Professor Fancypants if he/she didn't permit access to his/her collection. I'm not on the side of the academic, or the professional, or the avocational. I'm on the side of the archaeological record, on the side of the people who created that archaeological record, and on the side of the people who are not yet here to voice how they want to be able to relate to that archaeological record.

In many ways, even fifty years after Binford's “Archaeology as Anthropology,” we're still playing out the dream of the culture-historians. We're still waiting for more data to come in before we're emboldened to go beyond explication of spatio-temporal bounding, and making timid forays into explaining technomic functions. Far too few researchers are willing to venture boldly into the forest of explaining socio-technic and ideo-technic functions, at least not without being able to hold out some secure general comparative analogies for protection.

I don't necessarily think that archaeology has lived up to its full potential. I don't think the public has enough access to the data; and, they definitely haven't seen the derived benefits that are possible. I don't think that we need to be so dedicated to conservation that our hands are tied unless Sections 106/110, NEPA, or one of the little NEPAs triggers the magic switch.

I, too, know where there are dozens of undocumented sites. If you count predictive modeling, then I know where there are likely many more, even way out where it seems like no one else treads. However, I'm not ready to throw out good research design, problem-oriented research, and sound contingency plans for unexpected results.

A lot of information is available on the internet. I regularly come across Phase I & II reports that are being put on the web by CRM firms and anthropology departments. Most of it isn't as jargon-laced as is sometimes suggested. Moreover, most of the time that jargon really does mean something beyond just wanting to prove we've all been reading the same journals and books. Furthermore, we got that jargon from reading those journals and books because we cared about the material; to some extent, the non-professional stakeholders have to come part of the way, by also reading that material.

Personally, I've taken a lot from the model of open-source software. There is a community (or multiple communities with collective interests) that is built around a direct partnership between Communities of Practice and Communities of Interest. The practitioners and highly invested users generally want to help out new users; but, if they only developed what was simple enough for any potential user to just pick up and use at the highest level of functionality, then the reality is that the software wouldn't be of much real use to anyone. I think the litmus test for jargon is being able to explain why you use it, and the answer can't just be that one of the high muckety-mucks uses it all their literature.

The other part of meeting us part way is actually meeting us part way. There aren't enough of us to start a door-to-door mission. I've done enough summer camps to know that adults don't mind sending their children out as a captive audience; but, I don't see them showing up for their opportunities. I've done enough interpretive hikes, and public presentations, to know that it's often the same dozen people that show up at every opportunity.

For my part, I concede that I owe you some derived benefits. When given the opportunity, my preferred research is done on sites that are less than 200 years old. The issues I prefer to address aren't analogous to past situations; they're direct historical continuations of social and material inertia. If I can make an impact on the spatial mismatch of urban residential centralization versus job centralization, the decline of the smallholding farmer, and impacts of pollution from surface runoff, then I'll be sure to shout it from the rooftops. I have enough trouble just trying to convince people that there's enough selective preservation and recordation in the historical and sociological records that there's a need for an archaeologist to go around sticking his trowel into other people's business.

So, before I digress too far from the primary topic of the thread, I'll get back to the last post. Yes, I do see that as looting, at least as it is presented in that post. A destroyed site is “looting” from everyone, both collector and archaeologist, past, present, and future. Was there required mitigation? Were there public hearings prior to the development project? Did we really need another sea of gypsum board and stucco lath to run petrochemicals over the bluff, into the river below?

I guess I'll wrap up with a quote:

[P]ledging to dig only on sites that are otherwise threatened has the unintended effect of trivializing archaeological research and its contribution to society. Essentially, what we are saying is that any other socially approved activity, plus the prospect of looting, ranks higher as a reason for excavating sites than does the prospect of learning something about the past through good archaeological research on an important archaeological problem...I think this puts us in a really weak position when we try to argue that archaeology and archaeological knowledge are valuable, because de facto we have already said that research is a less important way of consuming the archaeological record than is digging a stock pond or widening a highway" (Lipe 1996:26).

Lipe, William D. 1996. In Defense of Digging: Archaeological Preservation as a Means, Not an End. CRM 19(7):23-27.

P.S. I would have broken that up with a few illustrations, but the “insert image” button gave my linux box a seizure. Perhaps I'll sprinkle them in later, from old Windoze machine.

P.P.S. I was also going to add links to a couple articles from the Bradenton Times, but this computer seems to have developed an aversion to the "insert link" button as well.

EDIT: Well, I fired up the old Windows computer; but it doesn't seem like the images are taking hold, so I'll just add the links down here.

In response to the Forrest Fenn article's suggestion that we need to engage the public in more accessible ways. Here's some summer campers listening to jargon-free me. Here I am with more campers, taken from a full page news article in the St.Petersburg Times entitled "Better than a droning history teacher." For what it's worth, the three shovel tests I dug with these kids were included in Florida Master Site File report #12022. I'm not in the picture, but was involved in the whole process of bringing Miccosukee kids, from the Ahfachkee school, into the field. I don't want to leave out the adults. It's not the best picture, but it shows most of the room...lot's of empty seats there. We didn't want to keep them locked up in a stuffy multi-purpose room all day. Yes, that person bending down is picking up what looks to be a small whelk shell. All you have to do is look down, and there's a wealth of modified shell, waste flakes, and potsherds just sitting wherever you look.

Now, on the subject of where surveys occur, where sites are listed, and the potential for overlap (or not): These are where there were cultural resource surveys that included archaeology (got rid of the architectural only surveys), to January 2012. Sorry for the sloppy presentation, but you can get the shapefile yourself, at by searching for SHPO you'll find the surveys. I abstracted the site points (n=27,676) to a 1 km grid. I cannot share the points, due to non-disclosure agreements; however, FPAN is sharing a version, with the points, that is more current (n=34,844 sites). 

Whew! OK, almost done. Here's an article from the Bradenton TIme where the journalist suggests that looters aren't getting the credit they deserve for all their hard work at site prospecting, and the looters don't know why they're getting shunned since they can read the same artifact identification guides the professionals are reading. Here's the FPAN response. They tried to make a good point about interpreting from context, but it does seem a bit lost in all that talk about artifacts. long as this all works as expected.

Post ID#19633 - replied 6/19/2012 11:19 AM


You say a lot, but very little.

Post ID#19634 - replied 6/19/2012 11:55 AM


I wouldn't dispute that. However, to be fair, I did come in after 50 previous posts; I said very little in response to a number of points that were made along the way.

I certainly didn't mean to imply that I'd said all there was to say in response to any of those points. Some of those points diverge from the primary topic; perhaps it would have been better not to comment on them in this thread

After more consideration, I've decided it may be appropriate to condense my points, and resubmit them for your perusal.

"Looting" is a legal definition that applies to illegally converting artifacts from archaeological data that is ideally held in the public trust, to private property. "Collecting," ultimately, does the same, but is not illegal. Academic and professional archaeologists can be just as guilty of inadequate recordation, curation, and interpretation.

"Looters" and "Collectors" are starting to suggest that they can offer the same precision in recording spatial data. They also, rightly, point out that they have been contributors to the creation of the chronological frameworks in which artifacts are placed. I haven't seen it yet; but, we're probably not far from seeing the suggestion that the existing literature permits any interested stakeholder to interpret utilitarian function.

The general public and their political representatives, who largely have no personal interest in "looting" or "collecting," are starting to question whether or not they've been getting their money's worth out of funding formal archaeology. They may choose not to call archaeologists to account before choosing to stop payment for formal archaeological research. For example, look at what happened to Parks Canada; even beyond hamstringing their ability to conduct ongoing research, they've opted for centralized curation of existing collections (which will diminish the opportunities for localized interpretation).

The cost of rigidly upholding a conservation ethic may be the loss the support of the general public, and taken as an indication that we won't be able to provide a better understanding of humanity or insights into solving present-day issues. If they give up on us now, as providers of anything beyond artifacts, then it is going to be difficult to persuade them otherwise in the future.

Better? I left out the part where I tried to show that I'm making good faith efforts to practice what I'm preaching.

Post ID#19636 - replied 6/20/2012 11:04 AM


Good posts bearmo, 
You may be surprised at the knowledge of most avocationals.  
I don't understand why some people on this forum have to be so arrogant and snarky.

Post ID#19639 - replied 6/20/2012 9:10 PM


We definitely have a lot of great avocationals here in Florida. They keep up with the scholarly literature, and most are regular fieldwork volunteers. The various chapters of the Florida Anthropological Society (FAS) usually have a close relationship with their local archaeologists, most of whom are also members of the FAS.

We also have a lot of conscientious property owners. There's certainly some who open up their private property for uncontrolled digging; but, there seem to be far more who eagerly reach out to get their properties properly documented before making modifications to their land.

Post ID#19643 - replied 6/21/2012 4:37 PM


Much better, bearmo2.

Post ID#19647 - replied 6/22/2012 12:22 PM


I do sometimes prattle on when I'm trying to convey a sense of informality. Never let it be said that I wasn't willing to pare things down to the more salient points.

Post ID#19660 - replied 6/25/2012 7:37 PM


"The general public and their political representatives, who largely have no personal interest in "looting" or "collecting," are starting to question whether or not they've been getting their money's worth out of funding formal archaeology."

I think you are correct in that assessment, and in many cases the answer is clearly no. Those who make budgetary decisions in the cultural resource field need to be very aware of what they are spending, and to keep the costs justified. It's nothing more than simple self-preservation; budgets are being tightened and will continue to be. The return on money spent on archaeology, in the perception of the public at large, is very low.

Post ID#19661 - replied 6/25/2012 7:42 PM


(Apologies for the length.)

From an MA thesis by Grayal Farr entitled "A REEVALUATION OF BULLEN’S TYPOLOGY FOR PRECERAMIC PROJECTILE POINTS". This is the last section of the paper and he makes some salient points IMO.

"Private Collectors, Private Collections, and Florida State Policy

In the course of five field seasons of work supervising volunteers at deeply stratified prehistoric quarry sites in South Carolina, I was fortunate to encounter in situ most of the same projectile point types we recognize in Florida today. I also encountered a phenomenon almost unknown in Florida today. The South Carolina Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology (SCIAA) long ago decided to reach out to the state’s artifact collectors and a level of trust has been established there that results in SCIAA being given access to private collections on an ongoing basis which, on balance benefits the state.

This is diametrically opposed to the situation which obtains in Florida today, and has since at least the late 1990s. In the course of visiting collectors, many of whose finds are illustrated in this thesis, I encountered a uniform level of suspicion and resentment of state policies. One collector agreed to let me see his collection only on the basis of a personal introduction from an archaeologist with whom he has a business relationship unrelated to the issue of artifacts or collecting. Even he agreed to allow me access to his collections only after a probing conversation that was friendly enough on the surface but was in fact an interrogation. The same collector stated that he had long planned to contribute his collection to the state, but will not now consider such a course. He has begun to sell his pieces on the internet. He was one of several who also said that, had they known that a current Florida State University student with whom they had cooperated is in favor of restrictive state policies they would not have assisted his researches by allowing access to their collections.
I approach this issue with my own grave reservations. For instance, I completely support the state’s right and obligation to regulate hunting and fishing. Fish and game are renewable resources. Any artifact on state property is a non-renewable resource. How can we countenance its removal for any private purpose, let alone its possible eventual sale? I am also sure that a short-lived state policy regarding diving collectors, the Isolated Finds Program (IFP) was used by an unscrupulous few to report finds as having been recovered from river bottom contexts and thus, in effect, “launder” looted artifacts. Likewise, I am aware that only a very small number of diving artifact collectors participated in the program.
I also approach the issue with some sobering understanding of Florida realities. In his recent article titled “Homeless Collections” Jerald Milanich (2005: 57-64), Curator of Florida Archaeology at the Florida Museum of Natural History, points out the situation at FLMNH and many other museums around the country: as a discipline, we are running out of money, space, materials, and staff energy for storage and curation. Much of the problem is being fueled, especially in Florida, by runaway development. I am also aware of the problems of cultural resource protection in rural settings; preventing collection is almost impossible except on a hit-or-miss basis that breeds more resentment that it does compliance. Unenforceable laws are inherently bad, breeding disrespect for resource protection laws in general.

During the 1997 FBAR Santa Fe River Archaeological Survey, in which I participated, I was able to see first-hand the level of suspicion and hostility exhibited by river divers encountered in the course of research activities on the river. At a meeting to publicize and garner support from the river diving community at Fanning Springs that same summer, I was able to witness that same hostility and suspicion. It is a bad situation, and a curious one. Wildlife officers who encounter hunters and sport fishermen in the course of their duties are far more often met with goodwill. It is clear that a sense of entitlement to remove artifacts from state lands has somehow developed. There is possibly still some basis on which to build a new state policy. That possibility is suggested by the admittedly subjective sense that the divers who cooperated with the IFP and participated in state and university research programs enjoyed an elevated status and respect among their peers.


In South Carolina collectors do not feel threatened by SCIAA. They bring their artifacts in to be recorded, bring entire collections to South Carolina conventions where SCIAA maintains a staffed facility to record artifact details including morphology, tool material, location and circumstances of the finds. Are there abuses being perpetrated? I’m sure there are, but in the end SCIAA gets the data, and it doesn’t have to curate the artifacts, which it has neither money, space, nor staff to do anyway. And the collectors feel like part of the team, recording and protecting the state’s cultural patrimony. Anecdotal evidence suggests that many of them also become effective adjuncts to South Carolina’s limited policing capabilities.

Compare that to the situation in Florida, where even collectors who have routinely cooperated with researchers are closing off access and disposing commercially of largely uncatalogued collections.
I recommend that Florida begin what must be (as has been South Carolina’s) a long-term outreach program to gain the trust, confidence, and cooperation of archaeological artifact collectors. The first step should be the reinstitution of the Isolated Finds Program, possibly expanded to include surface finds on state lands. The second would be to create a position within FBAR whose occupant’s responsibility would be to act, as it were, as an ambassador to the hostile tribes of Florida collectors. This individual would have to practice a lot of “Don’t ask, don’t tell” diplomacy, especially in the early years, but their mission would be to reenlist Florida collectors in the enterprise of reporting and recording the distribution and variation of Florida’s prehistoric and historic artifacts in the face of ever accelerating development. Academic archaeology does not have the resources to do that, even through the long-established and excellent cooperation of the Florida Anthropological Society (FAS) for which Bullen deserved so much credit. Neither can what Milanich (2005:57) identifies as the “now dominant” field of Cultural Resource Management (CRM) provide that level of survey and data recovery. Neither can all three working together. In fact, whatever we as a state do, or fail to do, our cultural heritage is being destroyed at a sickening rate, principally by forces absolutely oblivious to issues like artifact collection. Refusing information from any source is tantamount to throwing it away. The situation requires that Florida make every effort to record as much of our vanishing archaeological heritage as may yet be possible. In South Carolina, SCIAA struck what was feared at first to be a Churchill-style deal with the devil. It has won over its skeptics and created at minimal cost in funds or staff energy, an invaluable resource. It has also multiplied the effectiveness of South Carolina’s thinly stretched resource protection officers. It did not happen over night, or over just a few years, or by publishing pretty brochures. It was the concept and the work of a handful of SCIAA staff members with good interpersonal skills, operating for decades. The same model can be replicated in Florida. I believe it should be."

Post ID#19662 - replied 6/25/2012 11:26 PM


Getting rid of the IFP definitely wasn't universally supported by archaeologists. I do think that the majority of people who collecting, under the program, were interested in sharing the new information they generated. I don't think that rescinding the program did much to stop looting. Unfortunately, it came down to a power-struggle among the members of the Florida Archaeology Council, and efficiency in enforcement.

Personally, I could have gotten behind a permitting system, for isolated finds that came from highly disturbed contexts. Of course, a big part of the problem was that the enforcement personnel aren't trained to recognize the difference between artifacts that have been tumbled downstream with the rest of the bedload versus artifacts that are eroding out of the banks in the general vicinity of the find. Another problem was in communication between the FBAR and the FMSF, which isn't the fault of the collector.

I'm not ready to sign on for collection of terrestrial isolated finds on state lands, but I would want to see the process opened up to voluntary reporting of materials that are legally collected from private property. I think the enforcement personnel could attend short training course, just as they do for other issues that impact their jurisdictions. In part, that didn't happen because, even with collectors included, we're a small part of the constituency. Still, as Farr alluded to, we are bound by rules for fishing, hunting, etc; it doesn't seem a far stretch to add a bit of documentation to the collection of a non-renewable resource.

The technology for taking photographs and GPS locations, even taking waterproof equipment into consideration, is even more affordable and accessible now than it was 7-8 years ago. Training materials, for permit holder and enforcement personnel alike, could be produced, and used as field guides (to provide guidance for other data sources that would enhance the documentation).

Curation is a real problem. I know a number of professors who make sure that collected artifacts do get subjected to analysis...eventually. However, I also know that a lot material that really didn't need to be collected (it could have been field documented) wound up in mouldering boxes and paper bags, in non-climate controlled cargo containers, with little to no associated documentation. The dual realities of the destructive nature of the archaeological process, and possibility of some new technology that will allow the gleaning of new information from unexpected sources, really creates a lot of storage issues.

Some of that can be ameliorated through more thoughtful research design, and use of non-invasive remote sensing. However, to some extent, curation is always going to be a huge resource hog; if it isn't, then the likelihood is that the stored materials won't last long enough to be useful when the new technologies can be applied to analyzing them. In that case, all that money spent on curation went for naught.

I wish I had easy answers for bringing the derived benefits of archaeological research to the attention of the general public. There are some success stories (e.g., ancient farming techniques improving modern agriculture), but many results fall into a more nebulous category of comparing human responses to environmental change that were adaptive / maladaptive under different techno-economic conditions (and, I use economic in the broadest sense of "material-means-provisioning").

I do think one of the critical factors is to change the asymmetry in the exchange of knowledge. As I alluded to in an earlier post, I do think jargon has its place; but, I'm just as sure that there are people who are quite knowledgeable without using that same jargon. There has to be a point where the Americanist archaeologists remembers that we're anthropologists in the present, not just of the past. We should be able to find ways to integrate multiple types of knowledge into a single program of research. That means not just "dumbing down" our research for the general public, but also translating their knowledge into forms that can be applied to research design and results analysis.

That's difficult to fit in with a CRM model that puts researchers one step ahead of a bulldozer. I'm definitely glad that sites are mitigated rather than just obliterated, but we need research-driven community archaeology that still has conservation as one of its goals. Personally, I think the future belongs to public / private partnerships. For example, here in Florida, organizations like the Seminole Wars Foundation acquire property to protect it, but also sponsor research conducted by non-profit research / education organizations (e.g., Gulf Archaeological Research Institute) and university-based anthropology departments.

Well, I suppose I have to apologize for another long and winding post. Hopefully, you can forgive my trespasses in the name of passion.

Post ID#19664 - replied 6/26/2012 6:33 PM


The abolishment of the IFP was the worst step possible in collector-professional relations in FL. While participation was anything but universal, it allowed those that did to contribute their finds and knowledge. Many of the hobby divers view the abolishment of the program as a very direct stab in the back, they turned in locations where they were finding stuff and then are shut out, while the state benefits from the information they developed. Hard to argue their point. A goodly portion of these collections retrieved from the rivers of the state will never be a part of any study now, as Farr points out. The amount of material in private hands in FL is astounding, especially Paleo artifacts found in the rivers. Both Barbara Purdy and Al Goodyear (among many others) lobbied to keep the program, which I believe with some tweaking and nurturing would have paid big dividends in the long run. Some of the most exciting sites in that state over the last decade were located through hobby diver participation.

Jargon is a fact of life in any field, while archaeology can hold its own in that regard there are any number of disciplines that have developed to the point where lay people sometimes can have a hard time staying abreast. Google is your friend, as the saying goes, it usually only takes a few minutes to gain at least a rudimentary grasp of most terms and/or concepts. I do, however, think archaeologists who insist on a five page statistical analysis should be looking at possible prison time.

I believe most states, in the southeast at least, allow site reporting by anyone. The Mississippi Archaeological Association gives an award each year for "Most Sites Reported by an Amateur".

Post ID#20340 - replied 11/15/2013 6:33 PM


There is a new book out that discusses, in depth, the "GE Mound Case", by Jim Fisher. Interesting perspective on the case, and if even half of it is true then Mr. Gerber was something of a scapegoat in it. The whole thing was one sorry spectacle, that much is clear.   


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