Looters Don’t Hate Looters

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.

One thought on “Looters Don’t Hate Looters

  1. This is a very interesting way to think about things! Although we have learned a great deal about looters and archaeologists in class in separate fashions, I never considered juxtaposing them together in thought. One thing that popped into my mind when reading your blog post was regarding what you said about looters taking artifacts from sites for their own personal benefit, whether to sell on the market or keep for themselves. One thing I thought about after reading this was whether or not taking artifacts from sites makes the artifacts themselves less valuable on places such as the black market. We know that to archaeologists, material culture taken from a site is almost useless because now the site is compromised and now it will be impossible to figure out what these artifacts meant in a time and space context. Ethan always tells us that the artifact itself isn’t important, the place in which it was find and the context in which it was once used and valued is the most important. Because of this I have to wonder if this has any impact on its selling value in potential selling venues like the black market and at auction. Additionally, I wonder if keeping sites secret during and after excavation would help. As you said, many sites are discovered and immediately are blasted on the news so people could potentially sneak into the sites and try to loot them before archaeologists are able to get in there. However, if we had the ability to keep these sites a secret, it would most likely cut down on the amount of looters. But I wonder if this is actually feasible and if it is, how long would they need to be kept secret?

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