Via Paul Barford, an interesting post on pay-to-dig programs in the US. These aren’t extremely common, but they’re out there. The basic idea is to charge artifact collectors to dig at a site and let them keep whatever they find. The sites are on private land, so this is all legal, but it’s definitely sleazy and just as destructive of the archaeological record as anything Jeanne Redd did.
I found this one particularly interesting, given my own interests. The text on the website is terse and very circumspect, but there are a few details evident from the About page and the pictures. The sites are described as being in “northeastern Arizona” (hm, sounds familiar…), and judging from the architecture and pottery in the photos, it looks like they’re probably in the White Mountains/Mogollon Rim area, which is known for numerous sites with mixed Mogollon and Anasazi cultural influences. The Black-on-white sherd in one of the pictures looks like Cibola White Ware, which is common in that area, although it wouldn’t look out of place at Chaco either.
Also interesting is this effort by collectors in Texas to move away from looting-in-all-but-name and more toward some sort of collaborative effort with developers to excavate sites with professional methods in a salvage framework. Salvage archaeology is one of the main things professional archaeologists do, of course, but it’s almost always on public lands or for publicly funded infrastructure projects, where it’s mandated by law. On private land it’s generally not necessary, and an enormous amount of information is lost all the time when private development occurs in archaeologically rich areas. Some states have laws regulating this and requiring efforts to reduce it, but Texas has nothing of the sort, and indeed it has particularly strong laws protecting landowners’ rights to their property. Unlike most other states, at least in the Southwest, Texas doesn’t even have a burial law, so as far as I know there aren’t even any restrictions on dealing with human remains on private property. In this context it’s pretty interesting to see this effort by collectors, and I think it might be one of the most viable ways for the collecting community to contribute positively to archaeological knowledge. The leader certainly seems to have a vision for transforming the artifact trade. It’s going to be hard work to change things, though, especially since the only way to really make a difference would be to create and enforce a very stringent code of ethics among collectors that would force illegally or unethically excavated artifacts off the market. It’s conceivable that this could be done, but like any collective action problem it’s a daunting challenge. If it could be done, though, it would definitely be worth the hard work, and I don’t think there are any easier or more plausible solutions on offer, so I wish these folks luck.