September 16, 2009

Pay-to-dig archaeology

Pay to Dig, or Pay to Loot?One of the saddest cases was this sort of pay-to-dig operation was that of the “White Mountain Archaeological Research Center.” Also known as the Raven Ruin dig.

Visitors to the Raven Site paid somewhere around 75 dollars a day, and were shown how to dig in neat square holes, even using the metric system. Smart people thought that they were contributing to scientific research, but no one could tell these people that the project was a scam without getting sued.

There are no legal qualifications needed to call yourself an archaeologist. As the excavation took place on private property, the strip mining was legal. The “director” leased the land from a local couple, claiming to be “an archaeologist from Harvard.” To be fair, he had attended a class in archaeology conducted by Harvard, but did not have any sort of degree. That said, the project was legal as long as human remains were not encountered. Under NAGPRA, if human remains are found, all excavation has to stop. Over 100 ancient pueblo rooms were completely striped down to floor levels. In my opinion, given what I’ve seen at 30 similar Puebloan sites, the odds of a single excavation unit at this site not having human remains was about zero.

Pottery sherds and other interesting smaller artifacts from this dig wind up on Ebay every now and then. All parts of a history that can never be recovered.

I was sent to the site to help the Archaeological Conservancy clean up the mess after the whole sad affair ended. the first thing I found in the abandoned “labratory” was a child’s skull in a drawer with other bones, some decorated with the word “human” written in pencil. Several witnesses recognized the handwriting. Years later an anonymous donor sent me a CD from an auction house where the “director” was trying to sell all of the whole vessels at a high-end east coast auction house. I have no idea if he got the hundreds of thousands of dollars he was asking for the collection.
Comment:  I don't know if it would work, but it seems like there should be a law against digging up ancient ruins for profit. Ideally any ruins found would become public property.

For more on the subject, see Looting Is Big Business and Artifact Theft = "Organized Crime."

Below:  "A Google Maps view of the Village of Homol'ovi II. With 999 out of 1000 ground floor rooms pot-hunted, this village is probably the most vandalized place in North America."

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