California MD indicted for looting 30,000 tribal artifacts

Of course that was his point, so you’re both right.

I’ve dug more than once at ~160 year-old railroad dumps, mostly for bottles. Was I digging through trash, or plundering, or innocently collecting?

I can’t honestly say where the line is. But my blue Milk of Magnesia bottles look good on shelves.


Yes (per my earlier comment) I like old trash. Old trash in my parts - the stuff I see while hiking around, without digging - is mainly old bottles, cans, arrowheads, or other rusted metal. I did find a cow femur the other day, 3’ off the trail and with only 2" exposed. I saw one a week later in a kick-knack shop on sale for $25 (I can’t believe I left that out there!).

My gripe with @awjt is that some examples were obviously immoral, some were obviously OK (to me at least), and some were in between.

Mainly, I don’t think conflating blatant archaeological plundering with “hey, I’m walking around and found another arrowhead/can!” helps anyone. (Not that @awjt was necessarily doing that… but some folks are and that’s how I interpreted that post.)


I hear that. I’ve been to Newspaper Rock, and seen it with my own eyes.

It’s terribly exposed to anyone with the slightest inclination to vandalize. Is there an onus on society to protect it? Or does the pendulum swing further toward the rights of all to drive right up to it?

This shit kills me, because I care immensely and amateurs can be really beneficial, or they can fuck it all right up.

I think we need a UK-like Bureau of Treasures (I forget what they call it). Oh how I could ramble on…


Never been to London, have you? It feels like every inch of Whitehall is a memorial to some branch of the war dead, and most streets of Bloomsbury feature multiple blue plaques itemising former residents (last weekend I discovered that Percy & Mary Shelley, Kenneth Williams and Charles Fort were non-contemporaneous near-neighbours). Sometimes I get a sense of the whole place being run by a death cult.

Yes, that describes the Georgians/Victorians rather well.

Well, I definitely am.

This is the precise point of the original article: that public land is the collective property of all, not the unclaimed property of no-one. That’s not “even wilderness”, it’s “especially wilderness”.
If you find something on public land, it’s not nobody’s and hence fair to take, it’s everybody’s, under the stewardship of the nation.
In the UK, you’d be legally required to report the discovery of that gold.

The same applies to wild flowers. Those beautiful banks of bluebells don’t belong to anyone, right? So it’s fine to take enough for a couple of vases? It’s not as if anyone else is going to have the same idea, and entirely strip the woodlands and hillsides of all bluebells, apart from those trampled underfoot by those going for the very best flowers.
No. In the UK, it is illegal to pick wild flowers. Period. They MUST remain in place, for all to enjoy.

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The only dumb bastard who’d report finding a $100,000 gold nugget in the US is likely the same one who the government will find a way to persecute for reporting it.

Even if she/he hands the loot over to Uncle Sam without consequence, guess what they’ll buy with it… Weapons Of Death. The same murderous weapons that the majority of US tax dollars go towards.

Fuck that. Fuck ALL of that. I pay my taxes in full to stay out of trouble (god knows those shit-stains are listening), but, if you do find a gold nugget: melt it and keep it and sell that shit, tax free.

And donate some.

It’s quite a reasonable approach really. Suppose a load of Siberian shamans went to the US and started removing and cataloging “cult objects” just lying around, interpreting them in shamanistic terms.
Now of course that is extreme cultural relativism, but as a halfway house It is hard to understand why one culture gives itself the right to appropriate the objects of another culture and interpret them in its terms. Even in Europe, Roman, Greek and Egyptian history have been interpreted very much through the lenses of British, French and German scholars. As time goes on we realise that their interpretations were flawed because they were unaware of their own strong cultural bias.

[edit - incidentally one effect of the overemphasis on Greece and Rome was that evidence of earlier civilisations in the British Isles tended to be ignored as not important, or ascribed to the “druids”. Just in the last 30 years or so it has been realised that the South-West of England housed a major cultural centre which was part of a more general Mediterranean civilisation, and that Stonehenge and Avebury are just bits that happened to survive. Stonehenge was nearly destroyed by stone theft and Avebury was severely damaged. Fortunately what turns out to be the most interesting stuff was quite deeply buried. If it had all fallen into the hands of 19th century “archaeologists” - treaure seekers - it would have been lost.]

[edit again - while moving jobs I once rented a room in a house owned by a classical scholar who was an Aristophanes expert. I read her books and publications and discussed them with her. Her big thing was how different, in fact, the world of Aristophanes was from ours and how very, very different were people’s cultural assumptions. But this was hidden in most publications because the authors were the products of British private schools, and tended to interpret ancient Athens in terms of a world of English private schoolboys.]


We may be talking at slight cross-purposes. I’m presuming the theoretical find is an arrowhead and a gold artefact, not a literal lump of unprocessed mineral gold. We don’t really have those in the UK; I don’t have a clue about their legal status, nor a particular view on the morality.

If it’s an artefact, the important point is to report the find, leaving it in situ. The archaelogical context, to be further investigated by professionals, is more important than the material value of the item.
It’s also important to note that in England & Wales, the item doesn’t automatically become government property, to be melted down and sold to buy drones - if, after investigation by the local coroner and the British Museum, it’s sold, the money is split between the finder and the landowner (okay, that part might be the state). I think it’s typical for an item to be compulsorily kept by a museum, but the finder gets a reward based on the official valuation.

The point is to preserve the archaeological information (context, and chance to discover more about the same site) and artefacts for the nation, not to deprive the finder of personal gain.


Yeah, I was talking about a rock, not a pot.

Actually we do. Arrowheads and knives along with coins and metal objects are constantly turning up in Somerset and Wiltshire (I just happen to know about these) including goods from as far away as the other end of the Med., while there is gold to be winnowed in some Welsh rivers. [edit - misunderstood @Ministry’s sentence. He was just referring to gold nuggets not turning up in the UK]

For a recent really large find and what happened, amplifying your second paragraph (with which I agree) see
Frome Hoard

No, I just meant we don’t really get significant nuggets of mineral gold turning up - the Welsh veins aren’t really of a type conducive to that.

We certainly have museumfuls of arrowheads!

Maybe the situation is perceived as the analogue of “Nazi scientists excavating the foundations of an old synagogue in some Nazi-occupied country”. I’d consider that an overreaction, but that analogy helps me understand the reaction.

I’m in the “it belongs in a museum” camp, but in this case, tribal museums should get the priority.


It is definitely true that they have less culture left around; but the source of my bafflement is not “Well, I’ve always just had so much culture to wallow in that I can’t imagine why anyone would be whining about culture scarcity!”; but the fact that I don’t comprehend the feeling of being personally connected to the culture of the past, much less enough to feel psychic injury at the loss or removal of bits of it.

I certainly acknowledge that the past has impressed itself on me, I’m no more a cultural free agent than I am a genetic free agent; and I find history quite interesting(which, in addition to property considerations, is why I hate to see amateurs and curio dealers messing it up for actual researchers); but none of that makes it any less dead, or any less foreign. If I attempt to visit the past, I’m a tourist, always; even if I’m visiting a part of it where I can read the signs and menus.

Don’t get me wrong, I do not, and do not wish to appear to, support the right of this MD guy just wandering around and grabbing stuff, especially on public lands; it’s purely a matter of utter puzzlement at the depth of affective injury in response to the problem.

I’m against looting archeological sites; but because they are archeological sites, and the sentiment applies equally whether it’s a pre-columbian site in South America(to which I almost definitely have no connection); a site in whatever parts of Europe my ancestors came from(I don’t actually have any idea), the Fertile Crescent stuff that was so badly damaged in our recent Middle Eastern adventures; or the stuff that the Three Gorges dam flooded out. History is cool, the material culture and artifacts of the past are fascinating; but pretending that the culture of my dead ancestors is ‘my culture’ seems about as weird as claiming that I am my great-great-grandfather.

I don’t begrudge people the right to attempt to identify with dead culture; or ‘revive’ languages that haven’t had any speakers in generations; but the appeal of doing so baffles me; and it seems very much like a more intense version of being seriously into revolutionary war reenactments or ren fairs. The past is fun to study, fun to cosplay if you are into that sort of thing; but still exogenous and alien.

False equivalent. Here’s a better one: let’s say that the US Government declares that the Gettysburg battle site is a national monument, essentially holy ground, and that the shotgun shells and remnants of war there should remain in place to honor those who died. They discover that some guy from, say, Australia has been going there for years, finding artifacts, taking them away, and cataloging them. They’d have reason to be upset with him, wouldn’t they?

That’s what we’re dealing with here. The native tribes have asked that people not take artifacts of their dead from their lands. This guy did it anyway.


I don’t think future generations will get too excited by our artifacts. In fact they’lll probably perceive all our buried mountains of toxic junk as a nuisance and hate us for it.



Or maybe people don’t want their historical artifacts in a museum, because they see it as part of their living cultural heritage. They get to decide, I think.


You probably found the most precise equivalency. Yes, the original article is talking about that kind of thing.

Also I enjoyed @IanMcLoud’s step-through of my list. No each item was not equivalent to the 30,000 artifacts guy. The point was to illustrate that keeping what you pick up is subjective and there are so many variations. They weren’t meant to all be equivalent to each other within the list, or to the 30,000 artifact guy. Just a grab-bag.

If I were out walking in the desert and found an arrowhead, I’d jump in the air and kick my heels together. I have been looking for arrowheads all my life and have never found one. I might keep it, unless there was some well known prohibition on it. But if I were out walking and found 200 arrowheads together in a group… I’d think twice. If I found one of those big pressure-flaked spear-tips, I’d think twice. If I found stuff bigger than, say, what fits in the palm of my hand, I’d think twice and probably not even move it from where it rests, then try to figure out how to report it.

I’m keeping every gold nugget that I find. That’s a personal rule and I’m tattooing it on my arm for reference. I’ve never found any nuggets, but I’ve found small flakes when panning in a frisbee.

@slybevel, I used to live next to a glass dump. But not anymore. Found many an old blue bottle. I also used to live next to an open pit copper mine. Let me tell you… that place was daaaaangerous.


I’ve not been clear. Artefacts of my ancestors may well be interesting and worth preserving to many. I’d support that, and be against looting. But this true of many interesting/significant artefacts. It’s just that my position doesn’t change according to whether they were part MY ancestors’ lives, or anyone else’s ancestors’ lives. The detritus of my ancestors’ lives doesn’t define me. I’m not saying preservation of many historical artefacts isn’t worthwhile but just that I claim no special connection with them one way or another.

As for the old corn cobs. Yes, they’re just old corn cobs. Trash. Why anyone would want to take one escapes me. And if they did, well, they’re helping clean up.

Personally, I think the corn cobs need to stay there, untouched. The pueblo hasn’t been lived in since the 1300’s and to have a pile of “trash” there (harmlessly) makes it seem like people were just there yesterday. Which, to me, is great symbolism. Because in cosmic time, it really was yesterday. Native people aren’t a thing of the past; it’s more here and now, and the corn cobs should serve as a reminder that it’s real people we are talking about, people whose direct ancestors figured out and built the pueblo and need our help after we Europeans decimated their cultures and smallpoxed them into near non-existence. And we revere our not-even 250 year old culture. Meanwhile a bunch of corn cobs had been sitting there in Colorado for hundreds of years prior to the inception of the USA. Prior to much of what we even consider as the modern era. The symbolism is pretty in-your-face, and I like that. So, anyways, not to make too much out of it, but the corn cobs need to remain.