real professional archaeologist

Open letter to un-invited and unwanted site visitors

I know I am not the only professional archaeologist that deals with members of the public that are curious about archaeology. I encourage questions and interest from people that are genuinely so. Tons of non-professional archaeologists contribute to our understanding of the past through advocacy, volunteer work, fundraising, and good ol’ moral support. Avocational and amateur archaeology groups across the country work side by side with professional archaeologists and organizations. These are great relationships and interactions I enjoy.

One part of my job that I would rather not have to deal with is illegal digging and collecting. I know wishing it away won’t make it go away. I know that education and outreach is the right path to understanding and appreciation. However, there are those individuals that test my patience. We have all met them. These are what I call professional looters. They are not interested in learning about the people that lived in the past. They are not interested in preserving the archaeological record and the knowledge of it for future generations. They are not interested in sharing knowledge. These individuals are interested in “my point is older/bigger/more complete/more rare (fill in the blank) than yours” and “how much is it worth.” These individuals steal from our shared history for the benefit of themselves. I do not like this group of individuals.

I was fortunate this field season to not be inundated with these types of people at our field site. My luck ran out on the afternoon of the last day of actual fieldwork. The encounter was typical as far as talking with looters, yet also very strange. What follows is my “open letter” to the individual I met that day.