Thursday, June 25, 2009

Las Vegas Review Journal Editorial on Federal Raids in Four Corners Areas

The Las Vegas Review Journal has an interesting editorial about the Federal raids in the Four Corners area. See:

In addition to a kind reference to Kate Fitz Gibbon and "Who Owns the Past?" as well as this blog, the editorial states,

Federal indictments accuse the suspects of stealing, receiving or trying to sell artifacts belonging to Indian tribes that vanished from the area centuries ago. But the artifacts -- bowls, stone pipes, sandals, arrowheads and pendants -- were "stolen" only in the sense that they were dug up from the desert sites where the Anasazi abandoned them, perhaps more than a thousand years ago.

Such "pot hunting" has been a common hobby around the Four Corners area -- and other sparsely inhabited parts of the Southwest -- for generations.

The objection from archaeologists is that such artifacts lose much of their informational value if they're removed from their original sites without being carefully mapped and documented. The amateur pot hunters reply that museums and archaeologists have more of this stuff than they know what to do with.

Were the areas where these artifacts were found scheduled to be mapped and professionally excavated next summer? The summer after that? In 15 years? Never? If left untouched after being "eroded out," what would have been the most likely fate of these artifacts -- to be trampled by animals, washed away in the next rains?

"Pot hunting" is legal on private land; it is considered a crime on lands controlled by the government.

But the tiny ratio of private to "government-controlled" land in the West would be considered outrageous anywhere else.

No one is endorsing wanton vandalism of such sites or artifacts. But it would be useful and realistic if a cooperative, rather than an adversarial, approach allowed quick surveys of such sites, with the most archaeologically promising being set aside for near-future professional digs, with residents told "Harvest the rest if you can."

Perhaps, federal authorities should consult with Roger Bland and the PAS to see if that program might provide some ideas for what can be done in the American Southwest. See: There should be some way to balance the interests of Native Americans, archaeologists, pot hunters interested in local history and the Federal Government outside the purely punitive approach exemplified by the raids in the Four Corners area.

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