Archive for July 3rd, 2009

Fighting illegal artifact looting: “A new kind of respect”

by Katie Bowell, Curator of Cultural Interpretation

This past March I wrote about artifacts; specifically, what to do when you come across an artifact or cultural resource in one of our parks, trails, or natural spaces. The main message of the post was “you can look, but you can’t collect.” Collecting historic and prehistoric artifacts on public land is illegal under Colorado law, and transporting illegally collected artifacts across state lines is against federal law. However, even though it’s been over 100 years since the federal government passed the first laws protecting artifacts, illegal collecting still happens all over the country. And while some  illegally collected artifacts may end up on a mantel, others enter the stream of a robust black market that has ties to, among other things, the drug trade.

Last month, 24 people in Blanding, Utah, were indicted on charges of collecting and selling illegally acquired Native American artifacts, part of that very lucrative black market that exists for objects removed from archaeological sites.

NPR’s Howard Berkes wrote about the arrests here and the divided opinions within Blanding after the arrests here (be sure to check out the Photo Gallery “The Lure of Ancient Artifacts”).

I can understand the frustrations some people have over the current laws protecting artifacts; in our not-too-distant past collecting was legal and quite common. I also understand the bonds that people can feel towards artifacts; objects connect you to the past and, ultimately, to people and that is an invaluable experience. However, those reasonings don’t excuse the fact that, to quote Craig Childs, collecting “is a form of archaeological genocide, erasing the record of people from a place.” I hope that here, in Fort Collins, we will treat our archaeological sites with respect and take care of them for the future.

Anne O’Brien, a commentator on Berkes’ second article, put it well. “… it’s still hard to look down, see an arrow point or a pot uncovered by rain or a painted shard and leave it alone. That’s a new kind of respect.”

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