Thursday, November 6, 2008

Shanks Is Still Right . . . And Barford Is Wrong

Paul Barford recently said this,

I wrote what is below as a reply.

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Shanks is right.

The current practice of many archaeologists does not work where the rubber hits the road. It makes many archaeologists feel good if not righteous but it does not solve the problem of looting. It fails the basic test of where the rubber hits the road.

The UK has a rational approach, not perfect but still rational as it acknowledges basic human nature. While the world does have it's occasional Mother Theresa it has for more Donald Trumps (to use a grotesque example). Humans are acquisitive by nature, many people collect something. There is a reason we have private property laws in free countries but not in totalitarian ones. In totalitarian societies, the powerful control the government and rob the people (some like to call it redistribution of wealth) as a matter of law. In free countries the people have their private property protected as a matter of law - but I digress.

When I took philosophy our prof put the old saw of a question to us, "If a tree falls in the woods and there is no one there, does it make any sound?" I said of course it does, there is just nobody nearby to hear it. A friend of mine who had bought into Frege, Kant, Wittgenstein, et al (skeptical philosophers) said the tree did not make any sound because there was no one there to hear it. This is precisely what archaeologists who support the status quo are doing. They are taking a see-no-evil (don't acknowledge), speak-no-evil (don't publish), hear-no-evil (don't read about) approach to unprovenanced antiquities. Now I don't know if to be an archaeologist these days you must be a practitioner of 'The Secret' but I must say the archaeological community is certainly exercising what my old anthropology profs used to call 'magical thinking' - don't acknowledge it and it will go away.

I think legalizing and regulating antiquity sales would be far more preferable . . . but it might not give the archaeologists that warm, fuzzy feeling inside.

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Jim McGarigle
Polymath Numismatics

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