Essay Preview: Looting
Report this essay
Over this last semester of studying archaeology, one of the most important aspects of the field is understanding context. The context of any object is what allows an individual to understand the past. Context is everything that is associated with a given artifact, where it was found, what it was used for, and the date of that object. If an object is striped from its original context then it has lost all scientific value and becomes just something to look at. Any artifact is useless without context. Ever since the beginning of time looters have been destroying the context of some of the most famous artifacts we have known to man. Take a look in Egypt; just think about how much information we could have had if the pyramids would have been left alone. When items are ransacked by looters pieces of history are destroyed. With the releases of Hollywood films such as National Treasure and Indiana Jones give people the idea that there is treasure everywhere just waiting to be gigged up. Though that could be the case, but highly unlikely people resort to the much easier and faster way of stealing these priceless artifacts from museums and archaeological excavations.
There are many different severities when it comes to looting, but in every case that individual is stealing. No matter how big or irrelevant the object might seem. Ð²Ð‚ÑšThe most frequent participants in looting are known as the hobbyist or casual looter; who removes artifacts and other materials from archaeological sites primarily because of personal interest in the past and the desire to enhance their personal collection.Ð²Ð‚Ñœ
(McAlister, 1981) Besides the loss of the particular object hobbyist also destroy the context of the entire excavation. They may just dig up a bone but in doing so they might uncover other objects that seem to have no relevance to them but that object could be quite important. Now the object is just thrown to the side and is never discovered. Even if the object is found at a later time the original context is lost and the object becomes useless. Stealing from an archaeological site is wrong but it perfectly fine to go hunting for your own artifacts, such as bones lying around or using a metal detector and finding some rare coin. Plus when you do find that object it makes you feel much better to know that you found it on your own than to have had stolen it.
Ð²Ð‚ÑšPeople who systematically remove artifacts from sites to are known as commercial looters who profit from their sale in a market which exists for these items.Ð²Ð‚Ñœ (McAlister, 1981) Commercial looters are seen that the most sever type of looting because this is their occupation and they will stop at nothing to get what they want. All they are concerned with is creating the highest profit. This type of thinking goes against everything that it means to be an archaeologist. Archaeologists are not in the field to become rich and famous, they have a greater satisfaction understanding the knowledge behind artifacts than to sell them. They are put on display are kept in storage for continuous use, no artifact is ever sold.
Archaeologist are concentrated on using the artifacts found to connect to the past, commercial looters come in and wipe out some of the most historic sites known to man. They use any means necessary to uncover these artifacts such has sledgehammers, shovels and heavy machinery. Looters leave archaeologist with nothing but broken pieces of pottery, huge wholes in the ground, and a destroyed excavation site. The destruction limits the ability of the archaeologist to reconstruct the ancient life of these civilizations. The problem is that these types of actions are not new. Looting has been around since the beginning of time, but there isnÐ²Ð‚™t much that people can do to stop these individuals. Looting usually occurs in areas that have little or no government control over their people. Like in areas of Iraq, recently they have become victim to looting in such areas as their National Museum and ancient sites throughout the country. With the lack of government control in Iraq right now many people think that they can do what ever they want. For the most part that has become apparent, Anarchy occurs when people fear no punishment for the actions that they perform. If the prior government was still in tact, most of these actions would have been prevented.
We have even felt these types of actions here in the United States. During Hurricane Katrina you could say that our country was under attack by Mother Nature. During times of crisis the focus of the military and local law enforcement shift from their everyday jobs to the much bigger problem of protecting the lives of the individual. Just like in Iraq, no one was enforcing the law so people began to take what ever they wanted. New Orleans went from being a city of immense culture to a city of anarchy. Most looting exists because there is no precise way of controlling it and the punishment when caught are not severing enough. There is no deterrence from looting because the rewards outweigh the risk.
The last and most unusual type of looting in known as ancestry with the purpose of finding ones roots from the past. People who dig up their ancestors are called descendant peoples. This was a type of looting preformed by archaeologist in the past that would gig up the remains of Native American tribes. Ð²Ð‚ÑšFor years, American archaeologists dug on Indian burial grounds and other places considered sacred, removing artifacts and human remains to storage facilities for further study. In some cases human remains were not even thoroughly studied but instead archived rather than reburied.Ð²Ð‚Ñœ (McAlister, 1981) This was a major problem to the native peoples and as a consequence many native tribes prohibited archaeologist to remove any human remains from scared ground in fear that if you disturbed the past you would affect the future. In modern archaeological digs have to be given permission from that specific tribe to excavate on their land. If human remains are discovered and used they have to be reburied after the work is done.
Where would someone go and buy some of these priceless items are have been looted out of so many archaeological sites? The answer is international antiquities markets. Ð²Ð‚ÑšThe antiquities market operates almost purely by the law of supply and demand. Because looting and smuggling are illegal in most source countries, there is no incentive to dig up antiquities without a commercial motive. The demand comes from the collectors who, through the dealers, are willing to pay for the product. The looters respond to the demand by creating a supply.Ð²Ð‚Ñœ (Elia, 1998) Looters are going to respond to a price set by the buyers. If these prices are high, that will give the looter a greater