Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Citizen Patrols as an Antidote to Looting?

The New York Times has published Roger Atwood's editorial suggesting that the Iraqis and others organize citizen patrols to combat looting. See http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/13/opinion/13atwood.html

While this approach sounds promising, I wonder if the successes in Peru and Mali can be replicated in a place like Iraq. I suspect at least part of the success in Peru and Mali may come from the links the local people feel towards the tombs of their ancestors. I wonder if the same feeling may be absent in Iraq where looting concentrates on pre-Islamic sites.

I also question whether "binoculars, cellphones, maybe a few dirt bikes and some basic training" is all that is needed. Though Atwood does not seem to want to admit it, most looters are poor, local people. That is not surprising. All too often locals receive few tangible benefits from archaeological digs in their midst. Some might be hired to help with the digging, but such artifacts that are found tend to be removed by the authorities to a national or regional museum.

Then, there is the question of common, redundant artifacts. Is it really necessary for the state to keep them all? Perhaps, a version of the U.K.'s Treasure Act and Portable Antiquities Scheme can be investigated as well. This would ensure that everything would be recorded, but that the State would only keep that which it realistically can take care of. The rest would be returned to the community for them to decide whether to display it locally or to sell it for the community's good. The community should also be rewarded in some fashion when something significant is found on its land. Archaeologists may believe they are "saving antiquities for everyone," but the local people will naturally feel that they should have rights to the artifacts found on their land.

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