People of Chaco is my go-to reference for Chaco and the Pueblo world. After my modest explorations, I thoroughly enjoyed reading a modern-day travelogue on the Oregon Trail, and Cadillac Desert is never far from my thoughts with any time spent outdoors in the American West.
A book that looks at the ethics and quandaries of finding, collecting, preserving, and protecting cultural artifacts.
Is it better to put old artifacts in protected storage where no one may see them? Or leave them and risk professional artifact collectors selling them via dubious channels? And if the private collector protects the artifacts safely, is that better than storage where no one sees them?
I don’t have the answer, especially after reading this book.
The book initially focuses on Pueblo artifacts. But the book soon expands to cover and discuss Asian, Classical, Near East, and South American treasures. And the political battles over where the artifacts reside. As one example, the United Kingdom no doubt pillaged their empire for many of the artifacts cataloged in the splendid museums. But these priceless artifacts of world culture are now protected and even available for online viewing. Something that would not happen in politically unstable areas. But is it right? China, in particular, with its growing economic might, has strong opinions about where these artifacts should reside!
Ethic questions aside, I found the whole economics behind artifact collecting fascinating. Some items discussed: Tax-write offs for celebrities, archeologists-for-hire who get pressured to finish their work quickly on construction sites when objects get found, the black market trade, and how the government and universities don’t have the money to preserve the artifacts correctly. Very interesting.
And with the (possible) loosening of protection in areas formerly strictly protected? Old roads dug up, archeological questions never answered, and more artifacts again put in increasingly limited storage, perhaps? And that does not include the potential destruction of ancestral lands held to be sacred.
Finders Keepers by Craig Childs is a timely read. And a worthy one of any lover of world history and culture. These opinions are doubly true if you also spend time outdoors in the ancestral lands. Read the book, ask yourself questions, and think about what you are looking at next time you are in a museum.