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Topic: Culture & Communities     Department: Letters

A vault, not a souvenir shop

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In the July 19, 2010, issue, HCN included a sidebar article entitled "How to Return a Pot." There is, however, no legal process for returning artifacts taken from public lands. We often receive calls from people who have artifacts and want to return them. We can give your readers several reasons not to ever place themselves in this position:

Collecting artifacts, including arrowheads, from public or tribal lands without a permit is a federal crime. Violators risk prosecution and prison sentences of up to one year or more and/or possible fines in the tens of thousands of dollars.

An archaeological site is a vault filled with information, not a souvenir shop. Removing artifacts is like taking things from a museum. When trained professionals excavate a site, they make sure no significant information is lost and that resulting artifacts remain available to the public for research, education and interpretation.

Public-land resources belong to all Americans and future generations. If every visitor takes something, soon there will be nothing left for others to discover. Everyone should have the opportunity to visit an archaeological site that has not been picked clean.

The ancestors of today's American Indians left this rich legacy. Taking artifacts is a theft of their history. As Dawa Taylor, a member of the Hopi Tribe, explains: "I hope you get the same sense I get when I visit these sites. Respect, harmony, peace ... and knowing that this will stay here for other generations to come." Rose Simpson of the Pueblo of Santa Clara asks visitors to these sites: "Leave your prayers here. Leave your spiritual consciousness here. But don't take anything with you."

For those interested in learning about American Indian perspectives and the importance of cultural resources, view the Visit With Respect DVD at

LouAnn Jacobson, manager
BLM Canyons of the Ancients National Monument and Anasazi Heritage Center

a museum??
Linda Wiener
Linda Wiener
Aug 25, 2010 04:01 PM
"An archaeological site is a vault filled with information, not a souvenir shop. Removing artifacts is like taking things from a museum."

     If my house were destroyed and buried, say by an earthquake, it does not become a museum, it becomes a house in the ground. Archaeologists could study the site and find out how I lived, and they might take artifacts from my former home and put them in a museum, which is an institution where things are collected and organized for various purposes.
      However, amateur history buffs might also study the site and collect some of my former stuff to enjoy and study further, or kids might find cool stuff and keep it in a box under the bed, or people in the area might reuse the building materials in their own homes, or someone might find some great stuff and sell it to people who enjoy it for its artistic or historical value, or artists might find some of my stuff and bring it home for inspiration or to be part of their own work. When I imagine my long abandoned house in the ground, I am pleased to think of the remains being put to any of these uses.
     Defining an house in the ground as a museum and criminalizing everything but scientific study by archaeologists stops the discussion before it can even begin.

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