Message #135
From: AzTeC SW Archaeology SIG
To:   "'Matthias Giessler'" 

Date: Mon, 13 April 1998
Subject: 'Let Us In' Says Relic Hunter

[ AzTeC / SWA SASIG ]:

[ SASIG Ed. Note -- A reader of SWA SASIG responds
to a 1996 SASIG posting ]

From: John Lobota

I am a relic hunter and see various view points on
the subject. Many of them valid, but also see that
every situation is different. The relic sites I hunt
are those the State cannot or will not ever work on.
Usually on private property that is ready to be
developed. I am always one step ahead of the
bulldozers as are most of my detectorist friends.
We do not plunder archeological sites. However, we
have seen the state put pressure on the state
archeologist, which we have worked alongside forcing
him to finalize a project so the road or development
can continue. The state is more than guilty as is the
archeologist...because their decision is based
entirely on money, and pressure from greedy counties
or developers. Much like the individual noted in your
posting. Both are wrong... Most detectoists do not
plunder... Just as most individuals do not rob banks
or steal. Criminals do. A large number of important
sites are found and documented because a detectorist
found it. All my finds will eventually go into a
museum along with the details of the finds. The state
and archeologists were not willing to do what we did.
The items we found are the only ones that will ever be
available from these important historic sites. There
just needs to be more cooperation and willingness to
work together. On the part of the state, archeologists
and relic hunters. The state having the power should
be the ones to initiate this cooperative instead of
trying to weild their power to instill fear. Take guns
away from the people and only the criminals will have
guns. I see the same thing happening in this field.
Treasure and Relic Hunters all know one another and for
the most part have an informal network. If you want to
stop plundering, let the some of us in on the recovery
and one could get away with
plundering then. You guys are going at it all wrong...
we (the majority of relic hunters) are not the enemy,
the few that plunder are and you are grouping us all
together. We should be working together...


From: Mike Berry

(This is a) surficially compelling but utlimately
falacious argument. The vast majority of 'relic
hunters' do a great deal of damage. The fact that
they may be vandalizing sites that are not covered
by any state of federal regulation is irrelevant.
We don't encourage amateurs to do brain surgery
on folks who can't afford it because they happen
to be uninsured. Leave the sites alone Mr. Loboto.
They have a better chance of healing themselves
than they have with your assistance.

From: John Lobota

Mike,  I agree with you fully. I also fully
understand your concern. The two sites I am
referring to that I worked were immediately
destroyed thereafter. One was government land
sold to a developer and the construction co.
started dozing and building. The only existing
relics are what we salvaged to go into the
county museum. The second was one we worked on
with the State Archeologist who called in several
detectorists because he didn't have the resources
to recover enough to gain insight on the battle
ground before the county finished widening the
road. He was told in no uncertain terms by the
state to get out of the countys way. The few sites
I have worked were because they were on their way
to destruction by developers, or the counties.
They are the primary source of Historic Site
destruction along with, secondarily the Relic
Hunters out to steal what they can. I believe all
three are wrong.

From: Mike Berry

John, I sympathize with your posiiton, but you are
(as evidenced by your responsible behavior) an
exception to the rule. Archeology is fun. That's
why I spent so damn many years acquiring a doctorate.
With your keen and understandable interest in the
subject, why don't you consider a professional career
in archeology.  God knows it's not rocket science!
Good luck, Mike Berry

From: Teresa Paglione

A counterpoint argument ----

1 Jeepers, this detectorist must be psychic...  How
does he KNOW the state or another archeologist will
never work the site (properly)? If archeologists knew where
the destruction was going to be next, hundreds of sites
could be saved or excavated.  There seems to be the thought
that everything has to be excavated NOW - there is no
preservation value or ethic at work here. Or  budget for

2a As for working private property, unfortunately that
probably is the fault of the state and archeologists - not
getting word out to landowners that allowing non-
rofessionals to dig up the land looking for "goodies" is
not a good thing (BUT we are getting better at this public
education thing!). Of course, that assumes the detectorist
has permission to be there.

2b And speaking of private lands -- if it is land/property
(not just farmland) that is being managed or has any tie
with NRCS - USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service
(old Soil Conservation Service/SCS), then it is against our
(NRCS) rules to disturb cultural resources/sites and could
place the landowner in jeopardy - by removing future NRCS
assistance (technical help, grants, cost shares and loans..)
Of course that would be an extreme penalty - but entirely

3 As for state archeologists being pressured to approve
roads and construction, nothing in the law says an
archeological site can "veto" a project; the regs just
state that the resource should get as much consideration
as public benefits and other associated factors. If a
site is going to be destroyed, usually there is
mitigation if needed. Then again, the site has to be
worthy of preservation or excavation to justify the
expenditure of YOUR TAX Dollars.

4 As for greedy archeologists - I must be doing something
wrong - I am not rich - by a long shot. And I don't
know many archeologists that wouldn't make more money
doing something else. But most of us trade off what we
want to do for a smaller paycheck - as opposed to earning
"real" money in a job we don't like - or hate. And I
haven't and  don't charge mega-bucks for my assistance.
I have volunteered more time w/out pay (or at minimum
wage) in archeology than I can remember. (AND - even
tho the federal workforce is seen as strictly 9-5ers,
come by this office and you'll see a Wildlife Biologist,
Forester, Grazing Lands Specialist, Agronomist, Soil
Scientist and a lot of other people putting in more
than a 40 hour work week - and we don't get overtime, 
and none of us are doing it for the money....)

5 I have been on sites that metal detectors swept through
in previous years in the hands of a multitude of persons.
You ever try figuring out a battlefield with all the
metal gone or displaced? The only thing we found was more
than 3 feet below surface - in the bottom of a trench
(a dozen unfired blasting caps)...or on the surface in
a discard pile - with other unrelated objects. (A major
battle at Kennesaw Mountain, GA and all we found was
4 or 5 minie balls (none in original context), the
blasting caps and a broken artillery shell (also
previously dug up and then abandoned...after all, 1/4
of it was gone (a dud - not exploded).   But, the
local shops displaying or dealing in historic artifacts
had cabinets and drawers and trunks full of blasting
caps, artillery shells, minieballs, bayonets, belt
buckles, and all kinds of hardware associated with
1800's farms and Confederate and Union armies...)
Oh Sure - it was ALL purchased or dug legally and
documented. (yeah - right - some of it is still being
removed in the dead of nite within the NATIONAL PARK's
boundaries...) Of course, not all detectorists would
risk jail time, but destruction is destruction whether
you are knowingly or unknowingly doing it.

6 I have yet to see a site documented or recorded by
detectorists in any state archeological file or in
any library I have researched.

7a You want in on recovery and preservation efforts?
Do you know how much time and money it takes for the
conservation and preservation of most metal artifacts?
That is a whole 'nother subject....

7b If you really want to help the field of archeology
and archeologists, check out the  publications about
the survey at Little Big Horn (Custer Battlefield)
and see how to do it right... (Archeology, History
and Custer's Last Battle: The Little Big Horn
Reexamined, 1993; Archeological Insights in to the
Custer Battle: An Assessment of the 1984 Field Season,
1987 - both by Richard A. Fox, Univ of Oklahoma Press;
and Archeological Perspectives on the Battle at Little
Big Horn (1989) - by Fox and ???)

8a As for donating the artifacts you dig up, the
reputable museums wouldn't take it. Not to slam
anyone who does, but most little cities and towns
have museums that were/are local and a source of
misdirected community pride. You won't find many of
them staffed by professionals unless they are
trying to clean up the mess from decades of accepting
EVERYTHING that anyone brought in the door.

8b And that brings up another point - In archeology,
IT IS NOT the ARTIFACT itself - but what it represents
or can be interpreted to represent. CONTEXT counts, not
the artistic or display value most museums are after
(otherwise you'd see millions of broken sherds, ceramics
and glass and lithic flakes. BUT you don't; you only
see the restorable pottery or whole pots that are unique
or pretty or the best examples of projectile points)

AND finally ---
I'll tell you what, if you really are interesting
in saving the past, take a course in anthropology or
archeology - it is free on the net in a number of places!
Attend a local archeology chapter meeting. Contact a local
archeologist and volunteer your services; find out
why we (archeologists) really do this stuff. If he/she
turns your services down, shame on us; but please find
another archeologist to work with. Your best bet might be
to volunteer at an excavation, or begin a good relationship
with a professional in the field.  My best and first
recommendation would be to get your hands on one or all
three of Fox's books and see what teamwork between a metal
detectorist (group) and an archeologist can lead to. You
can get in the door by offering to help - and promising
not to abuse or misuse knowlegde gained from archeological
research . . . .

From: Brian Kenny

In Arizona, the avocational societies sponsor certification
programs. There also exists a Site Steward Program for
members of the public interested in participating in
historic preservation.  Many of these same stewards and
public-minded citizen participate in Arizona Archaeology
Awareness Month activities and the Archaeology Expo. They
represent a positive force.

Still, other abound out in the wilds, call themselves
'metal detectorists,' and do everything but proper work
-- they rarely ask for landowner permission, they dig
materials and destroy archaeological context, notes
taken (if at all) are scientifically inadequate, and,
they sell and trade looted artifacts for profit and ego
gratification (the 'gee look what ancient thing I
possess -- aren't I important' syndrome).

You don't have to become a professional archaeologist, but
as Mike said, it is fun to do so. As an avocational
archaeologist working in a sanctioned way, you also can
have a lot of fun.

As long you call youself a 'detectorist,' you lump
yourself with the bad apples that abound on
archaeological sites. You really can't have more fun
than putting these schmucks in jail and seeing them
successfully prosecuted them for breaking the law.

If you seek respect as a 'detectorist,' (the real point
of your letter), it probably won't be forthcoming
from the sanctioned historic preservation community.
Participate with them within the bounds of existing
law and established consultative precedents, and
most likely you will gain your desired outcome.

Keep up your good work, but, do it in a sanctioned way.
Contact the historic preservation community and work to
create appropriate public-participation programs, venues
and cooperative activities if they presently do not exist
in your area.