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Old 07-13-2004, 10:19 PM   #1
OldawanKenobi
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Is Private Collecting Unethical?

Is it unethical for an archaeologist to have his/her own collection of artifacts?Your thoughts?
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Old 07-14-2004, 12:18 AM   #2
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It depends. What I would do personally is: if I found something I'd like to keep while excavating, I'd catalogue it (of course) and then go to either my immediate superior, or if I was in charge of the excavation, I'd go to either the museum of antiquities or the antiquities council in whatever country I happen to be and ask if the particular artifact would really need to stay in the country in the museum. If it's some trinket, say a canopic jar or a small pot - unimportant to the grand scheme of things and a dime a dozen really - the liklihood is it would stay in the backroom of a museum in storage and never see the display cases. So why not take it home to put on my mantle? If it's something else that's perhaps more valuable (whatever that may be) I'd still ask permission to keep it.

Put simply and with less verbosity, private collecting is fine in my opinion if you've gotten permission from the proper authority to take it. Private collecting is not ok if you buy it on the black market, i. e. the "antiquities trade".

Archaeology isn't like it was in Indy's time and before. Nowadays there's more control over artifacts, in Egypt especially. Back then I'm sure many archaeologists gave artifacts to museums and kept some for themselves. Consequently there's now an issue with Egypt wanting their artifacts back, because of the new control structure in place and a sense of national pride. Private collectors everywhere have antiquities that were bought when the black market thrivedand controls were less tight, and then these "heirlooms" were passed down. It's unethical.

Okay, I veered a little and babbled. but back to the point: Yes, if you ask permission first.
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Old 07-14-2004, 01:22 AM   #3
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What if you buy artifacts that should be in a museum. Say some reputable merchant/auction house is selling the Magna Carta (okay, maybe not that big) and you have the capital and investors to purchase it for fair market value?

I think OWK wants to know, should you "own" a piece that is 'technically' the property of the culture it is from....
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Old 07-14-2004, 09:26 AM   #4
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Everything Is Relative

. . . . and I'll pose the flipside to Palehorse's hypo (and address the issue of 'finding' something of small value):

For decades after the Civil War, it was pretty easy to find a spent shot on the grounds of old battlefields. Is it ethical to pocket the round and take it home -- or should you give it to Ranger Rick, knowing (since you just came from a tour of the battlefield Museum) that the Museum has more rounds than they'll ever use.

. . . and then lets start raising the stakes: . . . a button? . . . a belt buckle? . . . .a bayonet? . . . .a rusty side arm?

[I'm just talking ethically here. I'm sure it's illegal to take anything from a designated landmark.]

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Old 07-14-2004, 10:29 AM   #5
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Wow, we could hypothecize this to death before even nailing down an area to look at.

My girlfriend works on an Indian Reservation here in California. From time to time she comes across small remenants of their culture out on the land. But regerdles of whether it is on their "reserved" land or not, is it ethical for her to take it?


I defer to sttngfan to put some small guide lines for us to work with.

If there are none, I am going to go out on a limb and say anything that is not yours, that you take, is stealing. When in doubt, take the black and white route.
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Old 07-14-2004, 10:52 AM   #6
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I couldn't agree more Palehorse. When I was very, very young (3 or 4) my father took a rock from the petrified forest about the size of an orange. This would've been '71 or '72. I don't know what happened to it -- but I'm guilt-ridden about it do this day, especially when I see photos of the park today compared to just a few decades ago.
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Old 07-15-2004, 04:01 PM   #7
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I think OWK wants to know, should you "own" a piece that is 'technically' the property of the culture it is from....

I guess that's pretty much what I was thinking,yeah.I have to agree with those of you who said that it would depend on what the object was.I don't believe that all private collector's are 'evil',but,again,it all depends on the situation.
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Old 07-16-2004, 03:33 PM   #8
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Only if you have a canvas bag to put it in and are careful about booby traps.
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Old 07-17-2004, 04:54 PM   #9
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I think it depends on the artifact/s and the context.

Take the example of the Elgin Marbles - was it ethical for Lord Elgin to take them from Greece? Had there been an authority in Greece to preserve them, then he shouldn't have taken them, but they were at risk of being vandalised and possibly destroyed.

If you are out for a walk and find an ancient arrowhead on the ground, should you take it? You might pick it up, put it in your pocket and take it home, and perhaps deny the discovery of an unknown archaeological site. But if you leave it, someone else might stand on it/drive over it in their car and crush it to pieces. Personally I'd pick it up, but make a note of where I'd found it (mentally, or take a photo of the area) so that I could tell someone (eg the land owner/park ranger/local museum). If they asked to have it, I'd give it to them, but chances are they'd shrug and say "so what?" Their response would depend on the artifact.

If you're on an excavation and find something, it should be properly recorded. Depending on what it is and its importance to the excavation, you may be lucky and get to take it home with you, but you should check first.#

And finally, if you're walking in a graveyard and find bones - don't touch them. Tell the groundskeeper or whoever - often they're the only person legally allowed to touch them. (Well, that's what I was told in Greyfriars Kirkyard in Edinburgh where they buried victims of the Plague, etc...)
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Old 07-17-2004, 05:24 PM   #10
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Is private collecting unethical? My wallet says no.
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Old 07-20-2004, 04:41 PM   #11
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since one object of archaeology is preservation, who's best able to preserve an artifact is best fit to protect it. if microsoft wanted to spend a billion dollars in bribes and materials to preserve/steal pompeii even from the rightful owners, i think you need to look at the bigger picture here. hypothetically, if they're not able to preserve their own artifacts they should be given to people who can. after all, what good is being owner to a handful of dust? in that case, you have to consider who's best able to handle the things, preserve them, and their intent. sometimes you have to do morally objectionable things for the greater good.

if, however, there is no claim of ownership, it's up for grabs, right? how is something that's owned by no one able to make a person a criminal? we're not talking about air or water here. and who's to say that all those objects were black market fare? i'm sure quite a bit of it were sold by the rightful owners. the 'it's part of our culture' only goes so far with me. i'm sure the magna carta is considered a gov't document making it gov't property. for the sake of argument, let's say it's not and it was passed down legally through the generations and the rightful owner decided to sell it. it's his property, it's his right. it might be a shytty thing to do, but, hey, it's his perogative and he shouldn't be viewed as evil, particularly considering something like that is his inheritance. what *would* be wrong would be if the gov't confiscated that based on the country's legacy, a definition that gets muddy real quick.

private collectors who have stuff put away in their mansions, never to be seen by anyone other than spoiled guests, shouldn't be villified. again, it's not that great a thing to do, but as long as what they've got they have legally, what fault can you find there? that it's important to some old culture? well, where was all that 'culture' when the thing came up at auction? where were the 'culture's' treasure seekers? and what is the 'culture' going to do with it, stick it in a museum? i figure if it's gotten by this long without said object, it's doing just fine. it's their own dumbass fault for losing it in the first place if such a thing is so precious. and how much of the ancient 'culture' is still being practiced? anything short of a surviving religion i'd be leary of. besides, i'd imagine a lot of 'private' collectors are actually businesses that have rescued stuff otherwise left to rot or discarded and put on display, even if in their lobby.

no one should be able to take advantage of poor countries with lots of primo loot. at the same time, what's to gain if general motors says it'll dump 10 million bucks into a project but wants part or most of the artifacts? how does it serve the 'culture' if the things are buried underground about ready to be bulldozed?

if they dredged up a boot from the titanic and put it on display, can some ancestor come along and say, 'hey, that's my great grand pappy's boot and it should belong to me. give it to me now'? what right of ownership should be extended to the people who rescued the item? personally, my attitude would be, look, tell ya what we're going to do: we're going to put this stupid boot back on the bottom of the ocean, and when you want, you're more than welcome to go and get it yourself, you stupid son of a *****.

i'm sure private collectors (by that i mean rich people with unlimited resources, corporations, and, indeed, museums) have probably done more good than not in managing not only to rescue but to preserve artifacts from oblivion. basically, what's on my property i assume i own it. i don't think a gov't has a right to claim ownership based on 'cultural inheritance', providence or shaky legacy arguments any more than a gov't has a right to come in and say, well, now that you've done all the work, we're going to confiscate your gold mine, on your property, which until today was legally yours.

i'm totally confused by shipwreck excavations. i believe 'finders keepers.' in my best french accent, 'but, that eez a french sheep from two hundred years ago. it belongs to zee french.' first, your sorry asses should have been out here looking for it and, second, it shouldn't have sunk where i could find it.
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Old 07-20-2004, 07:06 PM   #12
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GOod Thread! I've alway's asked myself this question. I think it would depend on the historical signifigance...If it is something common like an arrow where there are lots and it doesnt tell us anything new...Keep it!
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Old 07-21-2004, 09:28 AM   #13
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ethics? Its one thing to buy the Spear of Destiny and repaint it so it matches your wallpaper...its another thing to collect artifacts.

Would you say its unethical for a museum to own an artifact? What makes it so much more ethical for people of the artifact's cultural background to own the artifact?
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Old 07-21-2004, 12:12 PM   #14
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preyer-That's cool,man.You and Microsoft and GM can go ahead and just take whatever you like...there will always be a few of us more than willing to steal the things back.


Fair is fair.

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Old 07-28-2004, 11:14 PM   #15
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sdfsasfd

you said it yourself, 'steal things back.' for what purpose? to put it in a museum? what if you stole it back and put it one of these supposed paradigms of preservations and have some goombah come out of left field, claim its their 'heritage,' and demand it back? you're just going to give it to them, right?

who owns these antiquities? to use the TOD example where coronado's ancestor legally made a claim to his own property and indy steals it back for the purposes of putting it in a museum, well, what right does indy have for doing that? for that matter, what right does indy have in tracking it down and trying to blatantly steal it off the ship? you know what, i'd probably have ordered indy's ass to be thrown off the ship, too. i mean, here's this murderous, deranged, obsessed man trying to take what's mine on my own property no less. why is the legal owner made out to be a bad man?

it would be different if these people actually made the slightest effort to recover these lost relics. sometimes they're not even lost, they're sitting right there and *still* no effort is made by the rightful owners to take possession. if GM and microsoft and private people have no obligation to rescue artifacts (very typically from sites that are on some country's chopping block to make room for progress), you're suggesting they have no right to its owernship? fine, then, let it get bulldozed over, ruined and lost forever. good plan, along the lines of investing your retirement in enron and your regular savings in worldcom.

fact is, a lot, if not most, of museums are privately owned, making them simply private collections that are on display to the public at the owner's discretion. lest anyone think all museums are 'publicly owned', think again. i think it's very likely some collector will collect things, whatever they are and whatever cultural value it represents, keep the things for as long as they're alive and their descendents will just sell it at auction, allowing other private collectors to buy it but also allowing museums a shot at it, too. private collectors often buy something a museum can't budget out, then turn around and 'loan' the museum the thing basically forever. the bigger picture here is these things won't be lost forever (though we may never see them in our lifetimes), but eventually they'll trickle down to museums.

where they rightfully belong, right? i guess i better give up my star wars collection now: you never know who may come along and say it belongs in a museum. as with anything of importance, you have the rights of ownership up until you neglect it, be it your car, house, pet or child. if you neglect something long enough, maybe you *should* lose it.
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Old 07-29-2004, 08:39 AM   #16
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As a fellow Star Wars fan,I can't advise you to give up your collection,that's just wrong!

But,I also never said that the best place for any artifact was in a museum.If you want to argue points,that's fine,but attack the things I say,not things I didn't say.

Back to your post,you make some good points,and I think it's good that you seem to have preservation of the artifact as first priority.I just don't think that Bill Gates is qualified to decide what gets 'saved' and what doesn't and assuming that artifacts usually get lost due to laziness is just dismissive.
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Old 07-29-2004, 12:17 PM   #17
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We also have to make sure in our arguements here that we do not confuse ethics and legality with morality (even though they walk the same paths)
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Old 08-04-2004, 01:03 AM   #18
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A hard one to answer. In terms of unique items - and I use the term in its correct way - I think items are best shared in a museum. Naturally, this very thing will ensure that some people will go even further out of their way to acquire them for a private collection - something to show off to friends over drinks. Thankfully you have to be insanely rich to posess such a unique item that really matters, so this kind of behaviour is rare.

In terms of items that are relatively common, I see no problem with it at all.

Ultimately, I look at it like this - we are merely the custodians of items for such a relatively brief time (in terms of their actual age), that so long as we don't actively destroy the item, we're merely prserving it for the future, whether it's in a museum or a private collection. Things eventually change hands for numerous reasons.
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Old 08-26-2004, 07:08 PM   #19
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In most cases i believe that historical pieces belongs to museums, where everypeople can see it and any investigator can study it without problems.

As the spanish historical heritage law states:
"As a result and as its final objective, the Law aims to achieve access to the property
constituting our Historical Heritage. All measures for protection and promotion established by
the Law only serve a purpose if they eventually lead an increasing number of citizens to view
and enjoy the works that are the heritage of the collective capacity of a nation.
Because in a democratic State such property should be duly placed at the service of the people
in the conviction that enjoyment of it will facilitate access to culture and that the latter is the
path towards freedom for nations."

http://www.mcu.es/legislacion/pdf/ne_1985_english.pdf

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Old 08-26-2004, 10:42 PM   #20
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Re: Is Private Collecting Unethical?

Quote:
Originally posted by OldawanKenobi
Is it unethical for an archaeologist to have his/her own collection of artifacts?Your thoughts?


Not anymore unethical than Bill Gates owning his own Amtrack train or John Travoltra flying his owning/piloting Boeing 747.

We live in a society based on the Golden Rule- "He who has the gold makes the rules."

I believe if you researched EVERY artifact famous, priceless, you-name-it (in or out of museum) I'd bet that there is someone out there that currently owns it or has owned it, or can still lay actual claims to it but chooses not too.
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Old 08-28-2004, 03:34 PM   #21
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Dig "Finders Keepers"?

This is really a question about private property/property rights, and where you personally believe that it begins/stops. If you think that an item is someone else's property, and you take it, then you are stealing and should be spanked.

If you don't think that it's SEP and you find it, it's yours per "finders keepers".

Should you feel public-spirited (or guilty) enough to turn over something really neat (like the Hebrew Ark) to a museum? That's between you and your personal value system. Just remember that museums and universities are just as greedy as individuals, and can be just as unprincipled if it's something of apparent value. They may not "just show it to friends" the way you would in your home, but you can bet they'll charge admission to the public, and/or tax dollars, to exhibit it.

Michael Aquino
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Old 09-16-2014, 08:19 PM   #22
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Again apologies if I am resurrecting a dead thread, but I did not want to cause undue inconvenience by making a second topic needlessly. I have wrestled with this topic, especially as it applies to fossil collecting as well as Archeology/artifact collecting. The way I see it, if it is not something of intending to keep it forever I mean I would have some reservations about that.

But I am talking more like if you had these things, and then willed them to a museum for after your death. So that way you could enjoy them, but then after you pass on, everyone can enjoy them. That is how I'm rationalizing it I guess.
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Old 09-17-2014, 06:57 AM   #23
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Quote:
Originally Posted by TheFedora
Again apologies if I am resurrecting a dead thread, but I did not want to cause undue inconvenience by making a second topic needlessly.
The only mistake you make is constantly saying you're sorry for it. What are you, Canadian?
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Old 09-17-2014, 09:11 AM   #24
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This is interesting timing to revive this thread. Since the topic is a pretty big element of my latest likely-to-go-absolutely-nowhere adventure novel draft, where the main hero is a mercenary employed by a mega-rich collector of artifacts, to find and deliver them to him to keep locked up in his private home museum. I'd been contemplating just how immoral this occupation makes my hero, and the various comments on this thread make a good case for it being okay depending on the value of the object.

Funny how life works.
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Old 09-17-2014, 12:01 PM   #25
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Well no, not a canadian. I was just unsure, because Ive been on other forums that have different rules about reviving threads. Especially ones this old. Well I think in answer to the last person to reply... That if say you have a very rare dinosaur skull or a full greek statue in your house that is not okay. Even having a smaller mesoamerican figurine or pretty much any artifact that has writing on it. But something like a pot shard? An arrowhead? A civil war bullet? That's okay. I'm iffy on getting stuff like roman coins though which seem like they might impart knowledge that is more worth studying.
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