While writing this post, I have to admit right up front that I am not a collector, nor a professional scientist, and I have never worked at a "dig" professionally or otherwise. I am just a person who has a passion about our prehistoric past and preserving what we can of it - and while this might seem like a simple task to tackle, the controversy over buying and selling artifacts, it certainly is not simple and that all I can tell you is what my personal perspective on the situation is....here goes....
I believe that it is a conflict of interest to have anyone who sells artifacts to be involved with scientific archaeology....Working a site and selling artifacts is unacceptable.
Last month I did a presentation about the Murray Garden - a site that was worked on in the 1880's - -before archaeology even was a profession. The purpose of that presentation was to share the all but lost information about a "people" that once lived in our region, but were annihilated by the Iroquois; and the last handful known to be alive were wiped out in 1763 by a bunch of murderers called "The Paxton Gang." At that point, the Susquehannocks, as a people, were taken from us.
A hundred years before this horrible event, they lived here and left their imprint upon our region. The evidence of these people can be seen and celebrated at SRAC today. To me, just as much as any other person in the history of this community, whether they were a red man, white man, or any other color, they are a part MY region's heritage.
Let's just say that Spanish Hill is a site that has inspired me, and has taught me that we do not have all the answers yet, and that more work needs to to be done...and the only way it can be done is to save evidence and its relativity to the site where it was found. NOTE: Auction blocks do not count as provenience btw...and I know just from some of the collections SRAC has had donated, that when "auction" is associated with an artifact's past that it will be questionable whether or not it can ever be used in serious research.
Meanwhile, some professionals claim that within the next decade more serious work will be done here to ultimately figure out what Spanish Hill and it's ten acres enclosed by an earthen wall and interior ditch was used for, and exactly when the Susquehannocks abandoned their villages in our region. But let's face it, ten years is a long time for more evidence to be picked up only to be sent to the auction block...
"The Robert Johnson Artifacts Collection; & Related Library, Part II
Friday, March 6 Library - 4:30 pm
Saturday, March 7 Artifacts - 10:00 am
Artifacts and the related extensive library on Archaeology, Anthropology, & Ethnography all removed to be sold at Hesse Galleries, 350 Main St., Otego, NY sales gallery.
Sale includes authentic Pre-historic & Early Historic Artifacts, many from NY State. Plus an outstanding collection of fifty "art objects": polished and knapped stone faux artifacts.
Saturday Session: Artifacts from the Robert Johnson Collection: Over 300 lots including 17th c. Iroquois items, Pre-historic stone, baskets, bone, silver, wooden items, metal trade items, etc."...and I could go on and show you the items on Ebay and so on, but you get the idea....
While some say that there is simply "nothing we can do," SRAC made at least a small effort the minute we opened our doors. The following signs are hanging up in our Center:
BTW - - here is the official statement of the Society for American Archaeology concerning this:
"The Society for American Archaeology has long recognized that the buying and selling of objects out of archaeological context is contributing to the destruction of the archaeological record on the American continents and around the world. The commercialization of archaeological objects - their use as commodities to be exploited for personal enjoyment or profit - results in the destruction of archaeological sites and of contextual information that is essential to understanding the archaeological record. Archaeologists should therefore carefully weigh the benefits to scholarship of a project against the costs of potentially enhancing the commercial value of archaeological objects. Whenever possible they should discourage, and should themselves avoid, activities that enhance the commercial value of archaeological objects, especially objects that are not curated in public institutions, or readily available for scientific study, public interpretation, and display."
Tell me your thoughts.