Home > Mediterranean Archaeology in North Dakota, Notes From Athens > Jack Davis on "The Rising Love of Loot"

Jack Davis on "The Rising Love of Loot"

Jack Davis, my boss here at the American School, has given a good interview on the display, ownership, and ultimately meaning of antiquities.  Of particular note to some readers of this blog is his criticism of the private ownership of archaeological sites and material in the U.S.  In Davis’s words:

image “The antiquities laws in America are, in my view, ridiculous. They permit the private ownership of archaeological sites and the exploitation of those sites. If I am a farmer and I own an American Indian cemetery, something Late Mississippian, 13th or 14th century after Christ with beautiful artefacts, I can dig it. They’re my property. I can sell them just as private property. There are no restrictions whatsoever.

So we do what we can do. We have a couple of organisations in the States that exist to raise money to buy private property on which archaeological sites are located – the Archaeological Conservancy. We buy sites and set them aside just to protect them for the future. “

This is something that NDAA (North Dakota Archaeological Association — this is not the most updated web site!) might want to begin to address.  Private ownership of archaeological sites in North Dakota is, of course, very common.  The NDAA is made up of many well-informed and well-meaning avocational archaeologists (as well as professionals) who have antiquities on their lands.  The conversations I had with these folks at their 2007 Annual Meeting was, I think, mutually enlightening in that they seemed surprised by the protectionism of the Cypriot and Greek governments over antiquities, and generally interested in understanding the particulars of these arrangements (for which I could only provide a rather superficial perspective — not being an expert on Greek antiquities law).  Despite my position as an outsider, many of the individuals with whom I talked that night were open to engaging the complex issues surrounding archaeological property. It would be very useful for this discussion to continue!  In the wide-open spaces of North Dakota it is very difficult to imagine a day when all archaeological materials are protected, but by continuing to educate especially those who are already predisposed to being interest in these issues, we can ensure that the archaeological record remains meaningful for future generations. 

For a much more sophisticated, ongoing, discussion of these matters, check out the David Gill’s Looting Matters blog. 

  1. Aaron Barth
    October 16, 2007 at 8:20 pm

    Real quickly, it comes down to the disparity between what’s considered Sacred in the Old and New Worlds. Our Jeffersonian notion of Private property (or the illusion of it) continues to take precedent so that landowners have considerable — if not total — control of what happens to what is on their land. That forces scholarly institutions to either snub the private landholder, thereby adding to the already lingering Ivory White Tower myth about Ph.Ds already. Or, scholarly institutions can continue reaching out to landowners and, in this latter case, be allowed on to their land to open test units, conduct pedestrian surveys, and explain the methods of scholars so as to continue to engage in open dialog with the public that ultimately funds our state institutions.
    Isolationism doesn’t seem to be the answer, at least when it comes to archaeology in the American West, and in Dakota.

  2. Aaron Barth
    October 17, 2007 at 2:16 pm

    Also: a “printable view” on these blogs would be real handy for those who only have time to print an article or two before leaving town. It’s the only way to catch up: reading in the hotel rooms or at the campsites in the evening during field season.

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