Questions Artifact Collectors Pose to Professional Archaeologists: Question No. 11

by Tracy C. Brown

Question No. 11

Why don’t you professional archaeologists understand that on-line Indian artifact collector forums and treasure hunting forums are sacred safe spaces for us artifact collectors—and just stay the Hell away from them?


You are correct. They are indeed sacred safe spaces. I found that out the hard way many years ago. These days I only rarely have a desire to be a member of one of these on-line forums. However, if certain people with very thick skin are interested in what is currently happening in the artifact collector and treasure hunting communities, these forums are good places to learn about it. New artifact finds by collectors are described and shown in photographs on these forums.

I can offer a few other related thoughts and tips about theses forums that may be of interest to professional archaeologists, archaeology students, and the average person who is not an artifact collector or treasure hunter. This will be done in a listing format. Furthermore, I would like to emphasize that the list is general in nature and does not apply to any one forum in particular. From what I have seen on-line over the years, it appears to me that all such forums have much in common. Here is the list:

(1) You have to register, get a username, and obtain a password to fully access one of these forums. The people who own, operate, and moderate these forums like to have electronic life and death control over the forum members. The elements of registration are useful for that.

(2) These forums are classic echo chambers. They have rules for the members who make posts to the forums. They would say the purpose of these rules is to keep order on the forum—kind of like with Roberts Rules of Order. In my honest opinion, they serve a parallel subcurrent purpose. Just like with the Communist Party of the former Soviet Union, the rules are really designed to establish and nurture an ideological party-line with regard to artifact collecting; make sure all members will stay within the boundaries of the ideological party-line; limit any expressions of authentic truth (as opposed to party-line truth); stifle any dissent that does not mesh with the party-line ideology; and establish excuses to (figuratively speaking) fire a bullet into the brain of any member who violates party-line ideology.

(3) Since the year 1960, artifact collectors and artifact collecting have been under vicious and unrelenting assault by the professional archaeology community in the United States. Professional archaeologists (in consultation with federal and state legislators) have been instrumental in the enactment and promulgation of many cultural resource protection statutes and regulations with real biting teeth (fines and imprisonment). These statutes and regulations have adversely impacted artifact collecting in all 50 states. Moreover, the professional archaeology community rarely misses a news media opportunity or a face-to-face opportunity to point fingers at artifact collectors and tell them how bad and immoral they are for looting archaeological sites.

Artifact collectors on the receiving end of such stone throwing have a desire to seek shelter from the incoming missiles. The members of artifact-collecting and treasure-hunting forums view their favorite forum(s) as sacred safe spaces where they can meet with their own hobby kinsmen and be safely sheltered from the persistent verbal missiles thrown at them by professional archaeologists. Let me emphasize that one more time—–sacred safe spaces where they do not have to hear or tolerate criticism of what they do.

(4) If you are a professional archaeologist or archaeology student, and you would like to become a member of one of these artifact-collecting or treasure-hunting forums, I kindly recommend that you refrain from telling the other members of the forum that you are a professional archaeologist or archaeology student. If you do otherwise, the owners, moderators, and members of these forums may quietly flag you as a potential threat and watch you closely under a microscope, assuming that you have joined the forum with some evil motive designed to harm artifact collectors and/or their hobby. The best thing to do is just keep mum about your true identity; take on a good ole boy handle name; lurk on the forum; behave like one of the locals; and put on your best Forrest Gump impersonation if you choose to post anything on the forum. In other words, play dumb—or you will blow your cover.

(5) Never make any main post  or comment on a forum that is in any way, form, or fashion critical of artifact collectors, artifact collecting, or treasure hunting. Artifact collectors—even the ones who are dumber than dirt—have a very high personal view of themselves. Forum members tend to be highly sensitive, just like the Christian missionaries in a famous Tom Petty song:

…Missionaries walking backwards—touch’em and they bleed…

You do not have to verbally cold cock a forum member on-line to make him bleed. Just a very soft, slightly grazing whisper of breath across the shoulder will create a massive hemorrhage of bad feelings, and the forum members will jump on your ass like a duck on a June bug.

(6) Listen up professional archaeologists, archaeology graduate students, and archaeology undergraduate students. If you join one of these forums, just remember one very important thing. The artifact collectors and treasure hunters on these forums know everything about artifacts and archaeology—and you know nothing. Even if you have a Ph.D. and 60 years of experience in American archaeology, you still know nothing—and the artifact collectors know everything. This appears to be some sort of unwritten rule on these forums. Openly contest their collector truth with real archaeological  truth, and you may reap an earful of outrage.

(7) If you are a professional archaeologist, an archaeology graduate student, or an archaeology undergraduate student—you are pursuing some line of important archaeological research—and the forum members become aware that you are an archaeologist or archaeology student, certain kinds of questions are forbidden (as an unwritten rule). For example:

(A) Never request the contact information for another artifact collector who is not a member of the forum.

(B) Never ask who owns a particular artifact or type of artifact that is pertinent to your research.

If you inquire about such matters, the forum members automatically assume that some legality issue must surround the collector or artifact in question. Artifact collectors tend to view professional archaeologists as police officers who are—as the old 1930s Chicago gangsters used to say—“out to get me.” Forum members do not want to answer questions like these because they are afraid a fellow artifact collector will be arrested or one of his artifacts will be legally confiscated as a direct result of their answer. Ideologically, the worst thing an artifact collector can possibly do in this world is to betray the confidence, personal safety, or private property of another artifact collector. This unwritten rule is an almost Holy Bond. I repeat—Holy Bond—in the American artifact collector community.

Today intense anxiety and paranoia run wild in the artifact-collecting and treasure-hunting communities in the United States. Simple inquiries along the lines of those above—even if totally innocent and on the level—may be regarded as prima facie evidence that you are up to no good. Very often, certain kinds of legitimate archaeological research are indeed all about asking such key questions, tracking down the locations of certain types of artifacts, and trying to get in touch with their owners to examine and take notes on the artifacts of interest and their context—and take a few photographs of the artifacts. For some odd reason, many artifact collectors fail to understand the importance of the highly detailed information legitimate archaeological research requires.

Personally, as a result of this Holy Bond, I have found that using these artifact collector and treasure hunting forums as a tool to advance archaeological research is nearly worthless. Forum members are highly suspicious and not particularly open to answering the kinds of key questions that really can advance a legitimate archaeological research effort. If you pose one of those forbidden key questions on a forum, you will quite likely get stomped on like a cockroach!!!  Been there. Seen that. Got stomped.

(8) Artifact collecting is also viewed as a sacred brotherhood (and sisterhood) on these forums—in my opinion a bit of a perverse brotherhood or sisterhood. You might be surprised at this, but a number of artifact collectors do not approve of digging for artifacts—and they will tell you so. They also have no problem saying it straight to a digger’s face. What is the perverse part? If a shovel digger or a bulldozer digger is criticized in any way, form, or fashion on a forum—by a noncollector—the collector members of the forum who dislike digging quickly run to the odd-man-out digger and surround him with a massive group hug of love, joy, protection, and support. This weird brotherhood of collectors is a lot like what President Donald J. Trump said in his 2016 election campaign:

[I could] stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody [and not] lose any voters.

(9) Beware of knee-jerk hotheads and bullies on these artifact collector and treasure hunter forums. Public school playgrounds have them and so do these forums. Some artifact collectors just plain hate professional archaeologists—some with an almost perfect hatred. In my honest opinion, those few people tend to be the hotheads and bullies on these forums. If you are a professional archaeologist or archaeology student—and you do or say something they perceive to be incorrect, off-color, or offensive—and it does not take very much—the hotheads and bullies will come after you with a passionate, single-minded, and enduring vengeance for every hurt artifact collectors have ever felt at the hands of professional archaeologists across the past 60 years.

If you are a professional archaeologist or archaeology student—and they know that—they will show you zero mercy. Worst of all and oddest of all, when one of these hotheads or bullies cuts loose with some mean-spirited diatribe, nearly every other member of the forum snaps into the marching line right behind him just like a U.S. Marine recruit falls into line behind his drill sergeant. I am not sure why the more calm and level-headed collectors do this, but it often looks as if they do not have minds of their own. Maybe they are just afraid of the hotheads and bullies. Me? In times past, I have verbally handed some of these hotheads and bullies their heads on a platter—because that is precisely what these bullies and hotheads deserve. Sure. It will get you kicked off the forum forever. However, one prominent artifact collector in the Nashville area taught me one simple thing many years ago:

If someone gets on your back—get’m off!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

(10) Do not start any discussion about the federal/state statutes and regulations that protect cultural resources and adversely affect artifact collecting. These laws and regulations are a unique sore point with artifact collectors. It has been my personal observation that most artifact collectors on these forums do not know their asses from a hole in the ground when these statutes and regulations are batted around. Their ignorance of the details in these laws and regulations—and how they work—is monumental!!! As a result, the collectors are prone to generating homespun legal theories about artifact collecting—theories that will get them into trouble if they try to implement them in the field. Moreover, some of the artifact collectors are highly averse to points of correction coming from a person who really does know these statutes and regulations well. If you do try to correct one of these collectors, he will most likely blow his stack with anger at the facts; retreat into denialism; or insist that you cannot possibly know what you know. It is just plain crazy!!!

(11) Finally—and this is very important to say—some of the artifact collectors and treasure hunters on these forums are nice, sane, leveled-headed, and congenial people who are quite knowledgeable about artifacts and archaeology. Interacting with these people is a truly joyful experience. The thing I have never understood is this. Why do these nice people on the forums tolerate the highly sensitive collectors and the collectors who are knee-jerk hotheads and bullies? If I were the owner of one of these forums, they would be the first people banned for life—and I would not give a damn whether they are a fellow collector or not. Brotherhood with thin skins, hotheads, and bullies is no brotherhood at all.

1 thought on “Questions Artifact Collectors Pose to Professional Archaeologists: Question No. 11

  1. Pingback: Questions Artifact Collectors Pose to Professional Archaeologists—Easy Access List | Archaeology in Tennessee

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