As Ethan went over the significance of archaeology today, he talked about its importance other than just the excitement and the material culture. This made me think about the difference between archaeologists and looters. The key difference here is that archaeologists uncover history in a systematic process for the purpose of understanding society and the past. They are not merely interested in the ‘cool stuff’ such as buildings, art, and valuables; rather, they are more interested in the civilization that once existed at each site. Not only are they uncovering material culture but also knowledge.
Looters on the other hand could care less about the site itself. They are more inclined to look for the ancient material culture and the valuables for their own personal benefits. What they do not realize, however, is that they are taking a significant toll on the site at the cost of their own benefit. Not only are they damaging the site physically, but they are also potentially separating archaeologists from a missing puzzle piece. Whatever it is that looters come in contact with can be damaged or disturbed. Any disruption at an archaeological site can steer potential archaeologists in the wrong direction about ancient societies. It is important that archaeological sites experience minimal disruption in order to fully see the context in which it lays. Looters, among other natural occurrences, are a big threat to archaeology.
For years, looters have been taking advantage of history’s existence. There is not much that can be done about it either. In the case that a site has been found and currently being excavated, guards can be hired to prevent looters from taking artifacts and damaging the site; however, after the site has been excavated, the only thing left is to cover it back up. It is not likely that someone will stand guard forever. Archaeologists usually cover the site back up and disguise it in hopes that someone with good intentions only rediscovers it. Other than that, there is not much policy that can be made to prevent looting.
One implication I heard of is keeping the site’s location secret. One article I wrote about earlier talked about an archaeological site in the middle of the Honduran Jungle. Keeping the location private is a good idea, but only for sites that are hidden. For sites like the pyramids, it is hard to keep looters away from it by merely not publishing the location; it is too out in the open. For the sake of preserving archaeological sites, though, something should be done about looters.