TO COLLECT OR NOT TO COLLECT......
THAT IS THE QUESTION
By Dan King, December 22, 2009, www.rarepottery.info
To collect or not to collect, that is the question a few archaeologists are putting before us today. An artifact according to Webster's New Explorer Dictionary (1999;29) is "something made or modified by humans.....". Most artifacts made by Native Americans today, as well as in prehistoric times are a commodity, widely traded for profit and to attain wealth.
Let me be clear that we at www.rarepottery.info
do not condone any illegal collecting of any kind. It is legal to dig for, buy, and sell artifacts from private land with the landowners permission so long as they are not funerary items. We plan to have links to the actual laws soon, and perhaps a "laymans" summary.
With all due respect, archaeologists get paid to dig sites, removing artifacts to attain a wealth of information and a collection for a museum. With this in mind, archaeologists are scientific treasure hunters. Some archaeologists get paid to study artifacts all ready excavated. An article appeared in the Indian Trader (June 2008;20) with a headline that read "Arizona County Spends more than $1.3 Million in Studying Ancient Hohokam Tribal Artifacts". There is nothing wrong with this and there is nothing wrong about the private trade of artifacts. Most artifacts are used merchandise originally intended for trade, however a few archaeologists are against this legal practice, claiming that it promotes theft. The legal buying and selling of artifacts no more promotes illegal activity than the legal buying and selling of any other commodity. The same argument can be made for any and all used merchandise such as antiques, stereos, computers, paintings, auto parts, etcetera, etc..
Archaeology and collecting go "hand in hand". Collecting is preservation and an important part of archaeology. Many archaeologists enjoy collecting and have a collection of artifacts, and yet some of them want to ban collecting and private land excavating. Instead, they should be promoting proper excavating and recording procedures, so they too could benefit from private digs.
We consider prehistoric pottery beautiful and important to our Native American heritage, and should be admired and respected. The original creators of these magnificent works of art would be flattered of the care most private individuals, as well as most archaeologists, give them. Pottery slowly deteriorates when it is in the ground. By their legitimate excavation we are protecting them from decaying and preserving their history and beauty for "eternity", or at least "a while longer".
It is a shame that this vessel wasn't excavated at least 100 years earlier,
perhaps then we would know what design was painted on it.
We are restorers of prehistoric southwestern pottery. We trade in legitimately obtained artifacts. Most of the artifacts that we buy and sell are obtained through old collections that require cleaning, gluing, and restoration. We take pride in helping to preserve these pieces which would have otherwise been lost due to the elements of time. We trade to museums, colleges, universities, school teachers, and private individuals across the United States. We feel this is of great benefit because it helps in educating and peaks interest in archaeology as well as our Native American Heritage.
When prehistoric Native Americans left their homes they left behind many pots, rather than carry them to where ever they were going, they could always find more clay and make more pots. They were quite talented. A single house, House 8:6G at Snaketown contained 33 painted prehistoric pots (Haury, 1978;201). We believe they would appreciate the fact that some people of today would carefully dig down to the floor of the house they once lived in to find the artifacts they had left behind, and even though there may be hundreds of sherds, save every one. So that later they would clean each one by hand and scrub every broken edge. Then they would try to piece and glue together the sherds, somewhat "recreating" the ancient vessel. And then even taking the time to fill in the often missing pieces with plaster of paris and sanding down the plaster trying to create the same texture as the original pottery, and then carefully painting the plaster to bring the prehistoric pot back to look like it did "originally" so long ago. And yes, we believe the prehistoric potters would appreciate the fact that the pots they once sold or traded so long ago, are once again being sold or traded.
Most of the prehistoric potters, as well as potters of today, made pottery for fun and profit. Today it is sold for money, back then, maybe turquoise, or shell jewelry, clothing, or anything else of value. We believe the prehistoric potters of the past would appreciate the delicate care given to their past creations, and even appreciate profits the works of art are still making.
Some modern Native Americans are buying prehistoric pot sherds to grind into a temper and put into the making of the new pots today, just as many ancient potters ground up pot sherds to make their pots in prehistoric times.
St. Johns Polychrome bowl with Tularosa Black-on-White sherd temper. On the right side
you can see a tiny black and white striped sherd embedded in the surface of the bowl.
Everyone has a right to state their own personal opinion, however it is wrong to force your beliefs onto others. If it is one thing that the world archaeological record has taught us, is that forcing ones belief on others causes wars (greed is probably the second most popular cause of wars). Taking away peoples rights to trade in a commodity that was originally made for trade isn't the right thing to do. Why would some archaeologists want to take away our rights? With so little private land in Arizona (17%) compared to state and federal lands (83%), it just seems that some archaeologists "want it all" for themselves. Perhaps some of them are merely looking out for their own future and benefit. They seem to have enough work now as they have passed laws forcing county, state, and federal government, and even private land developers to hire archaeologists where ever a ruin may be impacted.
The early traders (dealers) brought much wealth to Native American artists by encouraging them to make their works of art. "Commercial pottery production for the tourist trade became the principal means by which many southwestern tribes reestablished a viable economy following the initial hardships suffered under reservation policy." (Wade & Mchesney, 1980;9). Reservation policy established by the United States Government is just one of many reasons the United States Government must feel somewhat responsible for much Native American suffering in the past. If it were not for collectors collecting the art, there would be much fewer artists creating their works today. It is very possible, that many Native American cultures may have even lost the tradition of pottery making if it weren't for collectors. Native American art is a great investment that increases in value. How better to invest money than to invest in something you enjoy looking at with wonder and amazement? Stocks and bonds aren't fun to look at, and inflation surpasses what most of us makes in interest at a bank.
Collecting is as American as apple pie and fry-bread. Many archaeological expeditions and excavations were conducted to build collections for museums. Museums stimulate and promote collecting, so be proud to be a collector and proudly display your collection.
This page last revised: 01/20/2017
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