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Thread: Landscapers ― how to treat (small) archaeological finds?

  1. #1
    Land-Scapegrace Heroique's Avatar
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    Landscapers ― how to treat (small) archaeological finds?

    When photographing on national & state forest lands in the Pacific NW, I often come across small pieces of archaeology, typically Native American hunting artifacts & potsherds from long-vanished cultures.

    Mainly, small stuff you might pick up, inspect, and put back on the ground – or into your pocket...

    Just curious, what’s your thinking and behavior when you come across such things? Do you refuse to touch them, no matter how small – better preserving them in their context for future experts? And if they seem significant, do you report them to the ranger’s office?

    Have you ever felt the urge to “hide” them from people less responsible than you? Or maybe you’ve done the opposite – placed them in better sight so others can enjoy the discovery, too?

    Last, have you reviewed the laws of your local area – do they seem reasonable?

  2. #2

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    Re: Landscapers ― how to treat (small) archaeological finds?

    I found a medicine bowl in Yosemite Valley about 2 years ago. Just the rim of it was at ground level. I dug it out -- a bowl carved out of a piece of granite. I felt honored to find it. I then carefully replaced it just as I found it, and turned in a report to the Park Service and to the Native American Museum there in the Valley. I took my boys to see it a year later, but someone had collected it. I asked at the NA Museum (same fellow), but he claimed not to have been able to find it (but would he tell me if he did?) I did not ask the Park -- but someone collected an amazing piece of history and a culturally significant piece of work. I am hoping it was the fellow at the NA Museum.

    Vaughn

  3. #3
    George Sheils
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    Re: Landscapers ― how to treat (small) archaeological finds?

    Good post here.

    Archaeology is all about context. When someone removes a bowl or arrowhead or whatever the object happens to be from its immediate surroundings it then becomes almost impossible for archaeologists to properly study or date the object to its surroundings.

    Always try to accurately record where a find has been made (use GPS if you have it) - photograph it (shouldn't be hard as we are photographers) and do your best to protect the item from exposure to the elements. Then report it to the proper authorities which means not just telling the Park Ranger.

    If you feel that it hasn't been followed up on I'd be inclined to raise it with the keeper of antiquities at the Department of the Environment or whichever Goverment body is responsible for national finds of a cultural value. If they can't give you a satisfactory answer I'd be inclined then to go to your Newspaper with the story and accompanying photograph to highlight that someone has either not acted on this appropriately or, as you describe above may have even pocketed what really belongs to the nation.

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    Land-Scapegrace Heroique's Avatar
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    Re: Landscapers ― how to treat (small) archaeological finds?

    Quote Originally Posted by Vaughn View Post
    ...I took my boys to see it a year later...
    Your example seems to strike a sensible balance between personal enjoyment & historical preservation – I don’t think it sacrifices too much to either side.

    On the other hand, if you had chosen not to file a report – so the medicine bowl could stay there – I’m curious if the wonder it would have inspired (in others, like your children) might have been more beneficial than getting it quickly behind glass at the museum?

    It’s a tough call...

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    Kirk Gittings's Avatar
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    Re: Landscapers ― how to treat (small) archaeological finds?

    http://www.houseofrain.com/books.cfm Read Craig Childs' "Finders Keepers" for a thorough societal and personal look at this issue. My personal view? Look at it, appreciate it, photograph it and walk away. It has more meaning and value in its context. Go back and visit periodically. In all the years I have spent roaming ruins, I have found some amazing things (many intact bowls, burials with offerings, storage cists with multi[le artifacts) and they all lay where I found them except a pure white chert bird point I found after a rain storm at Kuaua. When I pointed it out (in place) to a ranger he handed it to me saying I was the first person he had seen in 30 years that turned one in. I then gave it to my best friend as a present.
    Thanks,
    Kirk

    "When did photography become a desk job?" Kirk Gittings 2009

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    ROL's Avatar
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    Re: Landscapers ― how to treat (small) archaeological finds?

    There are only several laws, backed up by heavy fines and lengthy prison terms, about "collecting" these things, natural or manmade. Collecting anything (artifacts, flowers, rock), other than memories is unlawful in America's national parks and lands, unless you have a collecting permit. There are already, and have been, too many people wandering around this earth, claiming "firsts" and rights of "discovery". Exposed potsherds lying in middens and obsidian points may be examined and returned as found, in some areas. Everything else is hands off. Better to leave them for others to enjoy, because there are just to damned many of us as it is.

    I live by the Golden Rule and the Sierra Club Rule. The Golden Rule being do unto others (before they) as you would have them do unto you, and its more sobering corollary that says "them that has the gold makes the rules". The Sierra Club Rule: take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints.

    So I say it's better preserving them as they lie. I'm not responsible for making them available to others by either hiding them from the rest of "humanity" who doesn't think like me, or making them known to legal authority. That's real chutzpah to think otherwise.

    More realistically, who the hell really gives a flying f%@K about anything I do or say...

  7. #7
    Land-Scapegrace Heroique's Avatar
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    Re: Landscapers ― how to treat (small) archaeological finds?

    Just a quick example that may be of interest. My state of Washington seems to be very strict on these matters, but it’s probably typical of most states that have a significant Native American archaeological record. To put it simply, if you don’t have a permit, you’re not supposed to touch or disturb any artifact – no matter how small – whether it’s on private property, or Washington state property:

    -----
    Since 1974 it has been illegal to knowingly disturb archaeological sites or resources on private or public property without a permit from the Washington Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation (DAHP).

    If you find an artifact on Washington State land, you should leave it in place and notify the appropriate state official.

    If you possess an artifact found on state land, it should be returned to the appropriate authorities with as much information about where it was collected as possible. The Archaeology Public Outreach Program coordinator is happy to help members of the public return artifacts that were inadvertently removed from state property.


    -----
    I will have to plead guilty . The well-meaning “letter of the law,” after all, does seem to rob one of the magic of finding & holding – if just momentarily – something that an ancient person once held, much like Vaughn’s medicine bowl.

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    Re: Landscapers ― how to treat (small) archaeological finds?

    Quote Originally Posted by ROL View Post
    More realistically, who the hell really gives a flying f%@K about anything I do or say...
    me

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    Re: Landscapers ― how to treat (small) archaeological finds?

    Quote Originally Posted by Heroique View Post
    I will have to plead guilty . The well-meaning “letter of the law,” after all, does seem to rob one of the magic of finding & holding – if just momentarily – something that an ancient person once held, much like Vaughn’s medicine bowl.
    Perhaps I could have pleaded ignorance -- I did not know what it was when I saw a 6 inch ring of stone at a base of a tree (Ponderosa pine). I just reached down and pulled it up out of the ground. I wiggled it out more than dug. But I had it just out of the ground before I realized the round piece of granite (maybe 8 inches in diameter) was actually a hand-made something and not just a strange shaped piece of granite fallen from the Valley walls right above me.

    The NA Museum has a couple of bowls made out of soapstone, but someone spent a good amount of time chiseling out a small granite rock -- and not just the straight down like the acorn grinding stones one finds throughout the Valley, but the sides curved to follow roundness of the outside -- it felt perfect to the hands. I held a bowl and I pondered it for a few minutes and then replaced it as best as possible and used leaves to hide its shape.

    Then I continued up the slope to get my 8x10 up high on a talus slope just beneath an un-named waterfall which falls down the walls of the Valley below Sentinal Dome. It was a very good day. In April, I believe.

    Vaughn

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    Re: Landscapers ― how to treat (small) archaeological finds?

    Archaeologists would prefer that cultural materials remain in situ unless there is a compelling reason to excavate such as impending destruction, in hope that future methodologies may produce more meaningful analyses. If you do find something you feel is significant, be careful who you share the information with. Word gets around and collectors will pay a lot for some artifacts so an entire cultural deposit can be destroyed by pothunters.

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