Saturday, January 29, 2011

Even in Republican-Dominated Utah, Americans Recognize Artifact-Looting Is Wrong

This poll should come as bad news to the hard-core libertarians in the antiquities-collecting community, but good news to those of us who believe that archaeological sites are a public good. Even in a strongly Republican state, most Americans recognize that those who loot our sites are destroying something valued by us all, that an unpoliced market in antiquities abets this destruction, and that policing means making it clear through prosecution and convictions of looters and dealers in hot pots that their activities are not to be tolerated.

The publicity around this case has undoubtedly sent a signal, and it will be interesting to see whether looting of Native American sites in Utah is reduced substantially or not. On one hand, those who might otherwise have been contemplating heading off into the national park to chisel off a petroglyph may think twice, and public awareness of the importance of preserving archaeological sites is higher now; on the other hand, the publicity in itself has probably also raised awareness about the money that a good pot can bring, so that there are probably a lot more folks to whom the idea of looting will occur. And if, like Arizona and other states in dire fiscal straits, Utah cuts back on the policing of its parks, the good done by these prosecutions may be obviated.

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