Author Archives: dover1952

Questions Artifact Collectors Pose to Professional Archaeologists: Question No. 13

Question No. 13:

You professional archaeologists jaw bone a lot about federal statues and regulations that are designed to adversely impact us artifact collectors and our collecting. In easy language I can understand, can you define what you archaeologists mean when you use the words “statue” and “regulation”?  I always thought the federal government had one centralized place where all federal law is made. Then once a law is made, it automatically applies to all men, women, children, and organizations across the entire United States. Is that right?


No. Federal law is highly complex, multi-layered, sometimes applicable to persons in one place but not in another place, and hard for a lot of people to understand. Off the top of my head, I am going to offer you some basic information about the federal legal system, mention a little bit about related state law, and throw in some archaeological information along the way. I will do that in easy language (best I can), but you will have to learn some new words along the way. My presentation is in a listing format. Here goes:

(1) First things first—the word statue. Among artifact collectors and everyday citizens, I see this word quite often in written or oral discussions about federal law and artifact collecting. The on-line Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines the word “statue” as follows:

…a three-dimensional representation usually of a person, animal, or mythical being that is produced by sculpturing, modeling, or casting.

The Statue of Liberty is just what the name says—a statue. The official Tennessee State Artifact named The Ancestor is also a statue. The word statue has nothing to do with the law. The legal word you need to use instead is statute, which is something quite different entirely from a statue. Look closely and notice that third letter “t” in the word. In the American legal system, the word statute refers to a law created by a legislative body. Statute is just a fancy word that is synonymous with the simple word law. Got it?

(2) At the federal level of government, a final statute is a law passed by vote in both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate (U.S. Congress) and then signed into law by the President of the United States. The written text of a statute refers to itself as “the Act.” The overall process of voting on a proposed statute in the U.S. Congress and having the president sign it into law is called “enactment.”  Statutes are enacted.

A whole bunch of people on the street think federal statutes are short little statements of law like this ancient Jewish law from the 10 commandments in the Holy Bible. You know:

Thou shalt not kill.

Then—all done. Right?  Wrong!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Do you seriously think the federal government does anything that simple, short, and inexpensive?

In truth, the official text of most federal statutes is long, complex, and broken down into assorted sections and subsections identified by unique numbers and letters that constitute an outline of the statute. The text of each statute is written in that famous attorney language called legalese, which is often hard to understand if you do not know certain Latin terminology and are not accustomed to reading it. Because these statutes tend to be so long, they usually begin with a formal table of contents to ease reader navigation through the text. The Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1979 is a perfect example of a typical federal statute.

(3) What is a federal regulation? Federal regulations are different from statutes. Basically, a federal regulation is an administrative rule that is made by a specific federal agency to officially implement the requirements of a statute and ease management of the implementation process by employees of the federal government. The enactment of a statute is one thing, but implementing the terms of a statute within the federal government is quite another matter.

You might think of it like an exercise bicycle that comes to your house in a box—but you have to assemble all the parts yourself. The original engineering specifications for the bicycle are the statute. The makers of the bicycle parts have to meet those specifications according to a set and sequence of manufacturing rules inside a factory. The rules the factory workers must follow and the assembly instructions you must follow on that piece of paper in the bicycle box are the regulations.

The text of each statute contains within it a formal statement that legally delegates to a specific federal agency (e.g., U.S. Department of the Interior) the authority to implement the statute and create the new regulations necessary to implement, administer, and enforce the requirements of the statute. The formal word the federal government uses for the process of making new regulations, reviewing them, revising them, and issuing them in their final form is—get ready for a big new word—promulgation. Here is the proper language to use when  working with new statutes and regulations:

New federal statutes are enacted, but new federal regulations are promulgated.

Now, here is the most important thing to remember about all federal regulations. Because a statute (passed by the U.S. Congress and signed by the President of the United States) gives a federal agency the formal authority to create new regulations, these new regulations carry the full weight and authority of law—and they are legally enforcible by law enforcement officers and the federal courts—just like statutes. Using an automobile analogy, federal regulations are not the weak Cooper Mini of the legal world. They are just as important in the federal legal realm as the Rolls Royce statute. Federal regulations are also the law. The federal regulations promulgated by all federal agencies are available online in the Code of Federal Regulations, which you can easily Google. A particular set of federal regulations is cited according to the following alphanumeric format: 36 CFR 800. In this set, 36 is the number of the “momma” federal agency responsible for this set of federal regulations—the U.S. National Park Service. The CFR is a simple abbreviation for the Code of Federal Regulations. Number 800 is the part number that begins this set of regulations. This part has the title Protection of Historic Properties.

In summary, federal regulations usually have a “momma” statute that authorized their creation. A “momma” statute authorizes a specific federal agency to promulgate and administer a set of federal regulations. These regulations are the law too—just like statutes. Many different federal agencies promulgate their own very different sets of regulations.  Got it?  This where you say:

Wow!!! That must be a whole lot of different regulations covering all sorts of different stuff!!!

You are quite correct. If federal regulations were large steel bolts, there would probably be enough of them to sink a huge freight ship.

(4) All federal statutes and regulations are not created in one centralized place—and then they automatically apply to every man, woman, child, and organization in the United States. It is not that simple. Federal statutes are created on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., but the President of the United States usually signs off on them at the White House.

Federal regulations are written by federal employees with subject matter expertise and federal agency attorneys at widely distributed federal agency offices in Washington, D.C. and sometimes in other parts of the nation. It all depends on where the federal expertise is located for a certain type of regulation. Federal employees in different federal agency offices around the nation may help with drafting, reviewing, and revising regulations to be administered by their particular federal agency.

The applicability of a statute or regulation to a man, woman, child, or organization often depends on the specific subject matter and content of a statute or regulation. Some criminal statutes—like those covering theft of federal property—apply to everyone (with “sticky fingers”). No person or organization, anywhere in the nation, is authorized to steal federal property.

Other federal statutes and regulations are more specific. For example, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act of 1984 (RCRA) and the regulations promulgated under it apply to persons and organizations who generate, store, treat, and dispose of certain quantities of solid waste. The formal regulatory definition of solid waste includes everyday garbage and solid and liquid hazardous waste and mixed waste. Mixed waste is solid or liquid hazardous waste mixed in with low-level radioactive waste. As long as artifact collectors are not doing something incredibly weird with their artifacts and artifact collecting, the RCRA statute and the regulations promulgated under it would not apply to them. Just in case you wanted to know, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is the primary “momma” agency for the RCRA regulations. A federal agency that regulates radioactive materials may serve as a second “momma” for the mixed waste regulations. Sometimes two or more federal agency mommas are better than just one.

Therefore, some federal statutes and regulations may apply to everyone. These are often referred to as overarching statutes and regulations. Others may apply only to certain persons and/or organizations, depending on the specific contents of certain statues and regulations—and what some limited number of people or organizations are doing.

(5) Why did I write Items No. 1 through No. 4 (above)? Well, it has been my experience that both artifact collectors and archaeology students (graduate and undergraduate) have a really hard time learning about the federal legal system, how it is structured, and the nuts and bolts of how it works. Worst of all, I have had some really Close Encounters of the Truly Weird Kind (CETWK) with artifact collectors. 

One night a few years ago, I had a really tense encounter with an angry and highly agitated artifact collector who did not (and apparently could not) understand how federal statutes and regulations work and to whom they apply. He seemed to think that a big central law building exists in Washington, D.C. All federal statutes and regulations are created in that one building. They apply equally to every federal agency in the nation, every organization, and every person—no matter what their specific circumstances might be and no matter what the specific contents of the statutes and regulations say.

For example, let us say that the U.S. Congress and the President of the United States enact a federal statute pertinent to some important issue with cattle grazing that involves only the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) on five large tracts of BLM land out West. The BLM then promulgates a set of regulations to implement the new statute. Of course, BLM is the “momma” federal agency for these new regulations. This highly agitated artifact collector was insisting that every other federal agency, organization, and person across the entire United States was equally affected by that BLM-specific statute and the regulations promulgated under it—and every American individual and organization had to get busy and obey them.

Even if a nice, retired African-American man named Zach, who was allergic to beef and had nothing to do with cattle, was sitting quietly on his front porch in Dothan, Alabama, he had to get busy and comply with that BLM statute and the regulations under it. Why? Just like I said, this angry, highly agitated artifact collector apparently thought all federal statutes and regulations emerge from one building in Washington, D.C., and they all apply equally to everyone in the nation. No matter what the circumstances, Zach has to get busy and obey them. TVA has to obey them. Artifact collectors in Georgia have to obey them. Your teenage daughter in Massachusetts has to obey them—even though none of these agencies or persons ever has anything to do with those five large tracts of BLM land out West.

Bullshit!!!!! If you are not in any way grazing or supporting the grazing of cattle on those five tracts of BLM land out West, then that statute and the BLM regulations promulgated under it do not apply to you. If the BLM promulgates its own cultural resource management regulations for those five huge tracts of BLM land out West, that does not mean that those same BLM regulations apply to cultural resources on TVA lands here in the East. BLM is a separate federal agency from TVA, and it has no statutory or regulatory authority over cultural resources on TVA lands. TVA manages its own cultural resources.

I think American artifact collectors—such as this agitated guy—would like to convince themselves that the federal legal system is very simple, easy to understand, and all encompassing. They want to believe that all federal statutes and regulations come from one central place. They apply equally to everyone—in the same way as a simple Biblical law such as: “Thou shalt not kill.” Thataway (as my dad used to say), artifact collectors at least have some hope of quickly and easily determining whether they are violating some federal statute or regulation pertinent to their artifact collecting. Unfortunately, for most artifact collectors, that is just plain not true. The federal legal system is highly complicated and difficult to navigate for the average man or woman on the street—including any artifact collector who is not an attorney.

(6) Let us cover one last but very important thing. This is the interface of federal laws with state laws. How many of you have ever heard of the Supremacy Clause in the U.S. Constitution?  It reads as follows:

Article 4, Clause 2. This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.    

Lovely that. Can you say “crash and burn”?  When the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that gay marriage is legal, numerous states rushed to enact state-level anti-gay marriage laws to nullify the high court ruling. These efforts were sponsored by Republican state legislators who knew most of their constituents were dumber than potato peels in a trash can. These legislators full-well knew that the Supremacy Clause makes it illegal to countermand or nullify a federal law, treaty, regulation, or court ruling with a state law, state regulation, or state court ruling. They went ahead and did it anyway to fool their ignorant constituents and make it look like they were doing something important, effective, and wonderful. You know:

Ah!!!!! Honey child. I tried so very hard to protect you from those gay blades with that new state law, but somehow it just wasn’t in the cards. Knowin’ how hard I worked for you, you’ll be sure to support me come election time. Now won’t you honey child?

With regard to the federal statutes and regulations that apply to artifact collecting, the Supremacy Clause in the U.S. Constitution makes it illegal to enact a state law, promulgate a state regulation, or issue a state court ruling to nullify one of these federal laws or regulations. A state entity may go ahead and do so without any state official getting arrested. However, any such state action is doomed to crash and burn in the federal court system.

However, it is legal for a state legislature to do one really interesting thing with a requirement in federal law. For example, with regard to ARPA, no state can nullify or overturn the ARPA statute and its regulations, in whole or in part, because of the Supremacy Clause in the U.S. Constitution. However, it is legal for a state legislature to enact a state law and for a state agency to promulgate state regulations under it that make assorted aspects of ARPA apply more stringently at the state-level of law. In other words, if a particular clause in ARPA calls for an artifact collector to be kicked hard in the butt one time for some offense, the State of Tennessee can enact a more stringent state law and promulgate state regulations under it that require five kicks in the butt for the same offense. Ouch!!! To the best of my knowledge that has not occurred so far here in Tennessee, but it can happen if a state legislature, a governor, and a state agency responsible for cultural resources want it to happen.

Another thing to remember is the double jeopardy clause in the U.S. Constitution. This is the famous clause that says a person, once acquitted of a federal crime, cannot be tried again for the exact same offense by a federal court. That is true at the federal level. However, the American legal system has multiple, vertically tiered judicial jurisdictions. This means a person who kills someone in a federal building in Tennessee can be acquitted of that murder in a federal court, but that same person can be tried again at the state level of jurisdiction for the exact same crime in a state court of law because murder is illegal at the state level of jurisdiction in Tennessee. The American legal system calls this dual sovereignty. The same principle applies to any federal cultural resource protection statutes or regulations that exist at the federal level—but also exist in state statutes and regulations. You might be acquitted of an offense in a federal court room, but if the State of Tennessee has statutes or regulations that forbid that exact same crime, you could technically be nailed good for the exact same offense in a state court. Ouch again!!!  To the best of my knowledge, that rarely ever happens—but it could happen.

Finally, if you take out your digger shovel and dig deeply into the bowels of the ARPA statute, you will see some very interesting clauses stating that a person can be prosecuted under ARPA for violating a state cultural resources protection statute or regulation. For example, if you are caught removing artifacts illegally from state-owned land in your state, you can technically be prosecuted for that offense under the federal ARPA statute. The potential legal mechanics of that are unclear to me—meaning I have not looked deeply into the subject. Furthermore, based on something I read recently (cannot recall where), there appears to be some legal concern that these particular aspects of ARPA might not hold up well in a federal courtroom. In other words, these unusual aspects of ARPA have not been fully tested in the federal courts. Not being an attorney, I must confess that I know little to nothing about this particular subject.

I hope this clears up some of the confusion American artifact collectors have about the American legal system and how it works. As always, if you insist on collecting artifacts, please be sure that you do so in total compliance with all of the federal, state, and local statutes, regulations, and ordinances that are applicable to your collecting activities. These statutes, regulations, and ordinances are not designed to make artifact collectors angry.  They are designed to protect nonrenewable cultural resources from destruction and to conserve them for future generations of Americans. I know many of you artifact collectors out there are also game hunters. You know what the word conservation means and how important it is to your game hunting activities. You would never kill off the last male and female elk in Tennessee. So, why would you kill off our last remaining archaeological sites?  Yes, I know:

‘Cause I wants me a really great artifact!!! Besides, if I killed off them last two Tennessee elks, I’d jist go a Elk huntin’ in West Virginia. Bwa-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a!!!!!!!

Responsible artifact collectors.  All of you know a few artifact collectors who are just like that guy. Why do you tolerate them?  Why do you keep them as your friends? Inquiring professional archaeologists would really like to know. Comments are open.


Message for the Person Asking Where the Thruston Tablet was Found

The Thruston Tablet was found at some unknown location along Rocky Creek in Sumner County, Tennessee. The exact year in which it was found is unknown. In the year 1870, the state government of Tennessee sliced off that portion of Sumner County, along with pieces of land from other nearby Tennessee counties, and combined these lands to create a new Tennessee county called Trousdale County. Therefore, today the location where the Thruston Tablet was found is in Trousdale County, Tennessee.

Questions Artifact Collectors Pose to Professional Archaeologists: Question No. 12

by Tracy C. Brown

Question No. 12:

I have a good buddy who was recently collecting prehistoric artifacts in a creek bed on federal property. He was moving gradually along the creek bed, picking up artifacts from the bottom of the creek, and putting them into a Home Depot bucket he had sitting beside him in the creek. A federal law enforcement officer arrested my buddy right there near the creek. I do not see how it was legal for that officer to make an arrest like that because my buddy never took the artifacts out of his Home Depot bucket in the creek—and he never took the artifacts in that bucket outside of the federal property boundary line. If he never took the artifacts home with him, I do not understand how they could have arrested him. Are there any laws that allow an arrest like that?


I would have to know all the details of the case to fully answer this question for you. However, a couple of very obvious legal issues come to mind.

First of all, under the Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1979 (ARPA), it is not just illegal for  your buddy to collect artifacts on federal property and take them home with him.  It is illegal for him to even “attempt” to collect artifacts on federal property. Section (6) (a) of the ARPA statute reads as follows:

(a) No person may excavate, remove, damage, or otherwise alter or deface or attempt to excavate, remove, damage, or otherwise alter or deface any archaeological resource located on public lands or Indian lands unless such activity is pursuant to a permit issued under section 4 of this Act, a permit referred to in section 4(h)(2) of this Act, or the exemption contained in section 4(g)(1) of this Act.

The law enforcement officer who arrested your collector buddy probably saw the Home Depot bucket and the artifacts in it as evidence of a clear attempt to remove artifacts from federal property.  What else would your buddy have been doing with the artifacts in that bucket?  Surely he was not planning to sit on the bucket and wait for bluebirds to hatch from each artifact?

All prehistoric artifacts on federal lands are considered to be official federal property—just like a federally owned lawn mower or pickup truck. It is illegal to steal items of federal property by taking them outside of the federal property boundary. Theft of federal property is a crime. Yes, as you said, your buddy did not remove the artifacts in the home depot bucket from the creek and take them outside of the federal property boundary on the way to his house.

Nonetheless, attempted theft on federal land is also a federal crime. There is that old bugaboo word again—–attempted. It works the same way in your home town. Two guys break into the back door of an electronics store at 3:00 a.m. When the police arrive, the two guys doing the breaking and entering (itself a crime) are moving their first item (a big screen TV) toward the back door. What are the policemen going to do? Are they going to say:

Hey you! If you freeze right there and do not pass GO with that TV, we will give you $200 for not passing GO and avoid charging you with theft—and you can both go home for a good night’s sleep.

Of course not!!!  They are going to put the two guys in handcuffs, read them their Miranda rights, and charge them with breaking and entering and attempted theft. Your buddy’s Home Depot bucket with the artifacts in it was evidence of attempted theft of federal property—-just like those two guys moving the big screen TV toward the back door of the electronics store.

Artifact collectors may get together and hatch all sorts of stupid, homemade legal theories about collecting artifacts on federal land. Some do it before committing a crime, and some do it after committing a crime in an attempt to figure out why they were arrested. I have said this before, and I will say it again. Listen up artifact collectors and listen up good:

There is no home-hatched legal theory that allows you to collect artifacts on federal property without risk of arrest and prosecution. There are no special legal loopholes that allow you to collect artifacts on federal property without risk of arrest and prosecution. Figuratively speaking, the next time you hatch one of those homemade legal theories and try it out in the field, you will be hanging yourself with your own rope.

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; 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 will 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 cold cock a forum member on-line to make him bleed. Just a very soft, slightly grazing touch on 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 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 truth, and you will get 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 for the name or contact information for any specific artifact collector who owns a particular 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. Forum members do not want to answer questions like this one because they are afraid a fellow artifact collector will be arrested or one of their artifacts will be 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 or safety of another artifact collector. This unwritten rule is an almost Holy Bond.

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—will be regarded as prima facie evidence that you are up to no good. Very often, archaeological research is all about asking key questions, tracking down the locations of certain types of artifacts, and trying to get in touch with their owners. Personally, as a result of this Holy Bond, I have found that using these forums as a tool to advance archaeological research is nearly worthless. Forum members are highly suspicious and not particularly open to answering the key kinds of questions that really can advance a legitimate 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 viewed as a sacred brotherhood (and sisterhood) on these forums—in my opinion a bit of 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 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 forums. Public school playgrounds have them and so do these artifact-collecting and treasure-hunting 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 collectors have ever felt at the hands of professional archaeologists.

If you are a professional archaeologist or archaeology student—and they know that—you will be shown 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 in 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 a 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 ass from a hole in the ground when these statutes and regulations are batted around. The ignorance is monumental!!! The collectors are prone to generating homespun theories about the law and collecting—theories that will get them into trouble if they try to implement them in the field. Moreover, some of the 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 psychological denialism; or insist that you cannot possibly know what you know. It is just plain crazy!!!

(11) 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 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 hotheads and bullies is no brotherhood at all.

Questions Artifact Collectors Pose to Professional Archaeologists: Question No. 10

by Tracy C. Brown

Question No. 10: My artifact collection contains one really unusual-looking artifact, a kind I have never seen before. I would like to show it to a professional archaeologist, have him look it over, identify it for me, and tell me how old it is. My collector friends are warning me not to do that. They say professional archaeologists in departments of anthropology, museums, and other professional archaeology venues have a long-time, dishonest, and frequently played con game they use to steal artifacts from collectors like me and ordinary citizens who just walk in off the street with an artifact. They say the con game works something like this:

I will take my artifact to a museum and meet with the professional archaeologist. The archaeologist will welcome me and treat me like his oldest friend. Rather than give me the information on my artifact right then, the archaeologist will ask me to leave the artifact with him for a couple of weeks so he can study it more closely—to give me a better and more thorough opinion about it. Of course, I will do that like most folks will do. Then I will come back two weeks later to pick up the new information and my artifact at a scheduled time. When I inquire at the front desk, they will tell me that the archaeologist I talked to before is not there that day, but I can talk to another archaeologist on the staff.  That other archaeologist will come out, talk to me for a minute, and tell me that no one at the museum has ever heard of me or my artifact. I will plead to get my artifact back. Then the archaeologist will angrily tell me to leave the museum and order me to never come back again. I will never get the information I requested, and I will never see my artifact again.

My collector buddies have left me with the impression that this con game is played very often, and they regularly advise artifact collectors and ordinary citizens all over the country to avoid showing artifacts to professional archaeologists for this reason. They also tell them to never leave an artifact overnight or for any other long length of time with a professional archaeologist—or they will never, ever see their artifact again. Is all of this really true?


No. It is not true. “Come now, and let us reason together…” (Isaiah 1:18). If a widespread and often repeated con game like this actually exists among professional archaeologists in the United States, I would know about it after being around professional archaeologists and artifact collectors most of my life. I do not play such con games with artifact collectors or ordinary citizens—and neither does any other professional archaeologist I have ever known. While a rare bad apple may exist in every social barrel, most professional archaeologists and museum directors are ethical, honest, and conscientious people who try their level best to do the right thing, and they succeed most of the time. That being the case, stealing legal, privately owned artifacts from artifact collectors or ordinary citizens through some nationwide, know-the-secret-handshake con game does not ring true to me.

Almost nothing escapes the notice of the American news media (both print and electronic). Editors and reporters are constantly sniffing nearly every nook and cranny of the United States for truly interesting stories. What reporter would be able to resist printing this headline:

         Local Indiana Jones Runs Con Game to Steal Artifacts from Citizens

If a widespread (or even just local) con game like this were to really exist, it would make big headlines in the local news media and national news media. I have not seen any old or recent stories in the news media about this supposed con game.

If a professional archaeologist did steal an artifact from a person, do you seriously think that person is going to simply shrug their shoulders and go home to brood? Of course not, that person would do the same thing I or anyone else would do. Go to their local police department, get an attorney, solicit a judge to issue a search warrant, and come down hard on the professional archaeologist (and their institution) who stole the artifact in question. Moreover, if this supposed con game were implemented often by professional archaeologists all over our country, artifact collectors and ordinary citizens would be up in arms about it and leading street demonstrations. Huge numbers of professional archaeologists would be cooling their heels for theft in local jails or state prisons. That has not happened in our American past, and it is not happening now.

No professional archaeologist has ever mentioned the existence of this supposed con game to me. I have heard about it only from the artifact collectors who pass it around by word of mouth (and occasionally in casual written form at on-line artifact collector forums). The whole notion of this con game is part of what I call artifact collector folklore.

Frankly, I am inclined to formally define this so-called professional archaeologist’s con game as nothing more than a widespread urban legend among American artifact collectors. The original sources of such urban legends are often hard to identify. Some urban legends are rooted in a real past incident that involved a bit of truth, something misunderstood to be truth, or  some odd perversion of the truth. I cannot say for certain where this urban legend about a professional archaeologists’ con game to steal artifacts began, but I have one really excellent historical candidate for where it may have begun.

It may have begun with a series of events and actions that occurred with the first discovery of an Adena sandstone tablet exhibiting engraved bird heads. This artifact was found in 1942 by a 12-year-old boy who was digging for artifacts within a bluff top mound in Parkersburg, West Virginia. This boy’s name was Edward Low, and the artifact he found there is widely known today as the Low Tablet.

The full story of Edward Low and his tablet is far too long and convoluted to describe in full here. Suffice it to say that a much older Edward Low eventually took his Low Tablet to the Ohio Historical Society (OHS) so a famous Ohio archaeologist, Dr. Raymond Baby (pronounced “Bobby”), could closely examine it. Mr. Low left the artifact with this archaeologist and the OHS Museum for 36 years.

In the year 2007, after Mr. Low had found out the incredibly high amount of money the Low Tablet was worth, he wanted the OHS Museum to give it back to him. The OHS Museum claimed that Mr. Low had donated the Low Tablet to the Museum in 1971, and the museum had old internal paperwork indicating that it had indeed been a gift. Furthermore, Mr. Low admitted in a legal document (Defendant’s First Request for Admissions) that on September 2, 1971, he had called Dr. Baby on the telephone and told him that he would give the Low Tablet to the OHS—all the while knowing that the OHS had long considered it to be a gift. Mr. Low later claimed that he had merely loaned the tablet to the OHS. In an attempt to get his artifact back, Mr. Low filed a major lawsuit against the OHS in the case of Edward Low vs. Ohio Historical Society. The OHS won this initial legal action, but an appeal was soon filed. More legal wrangling ensued over the next several years. Mr. Low died one day while this wrangling was still underway, but his surviving family kept it going. An Ohio court eventually dismissed the case. In the end, the Low family was never able to legally reclaim the Low Tablet as its personal property, and it remained in the possession of the OHS.

Today the Edward Low Dispute (as I call it), and the now closed legal storm surrounding it, are legendary in the American artifact collector community. Many artifact collectors swear up one side and down the other that Edward Low and his family were unfairly and royally screwed by the OHS and the court system. Based on no particular evidence at all, numerous artifact collectors have speculated that the OHS forged the internal documents indicating the Low Tablet was a donation. Most of the artifact collectors who make such wild claims have never even read the original court records. They have just read highly biased artifact collector tomes about it, or they have heard collector grapevine gossip about the Edward Low Dispute. They have chosen to believe whatever is said just because a fellow artifact collector said it——————-and “by God” everyone must surely know it is impossible for an artifact collector to ever be wrong about anything (LOL).

American court documents are a matter of public record in the United States, and they are available to the general public. I am one of the few people who has actually obtained and read the original court documents pertinent to this dispute. After studying all of those documents carefully and in detail, I have concluded to my own personal satisfaction that the Low Tablet really was a gift and should have remained at the OHS Museum. The contents of the OHS internal documents and court documents clearly indicated that to me. That was also the conclusion of the jury in the initial trial (Edward Low vs. Ohio Historical Society).

The Edward Low Dispute and the folklore surrounding it offer today’s American artifact collectors a key opportunity they desperately want and need. Since at least 1960, artifact collectors and artifact collecting (either as a hobby or as a material investment) have been under unrelenting assault by the professional archaeology community in the United States. The urban legend about a professional archaeology con game to slyly steal artifacts from artifact collectors and ordinary citizens has become a useful public relations (PR) tool to stab back at professional archaeologists in vengeance for all of the emotional pain they have inflicted on artifact collectors. Furthermore, properly distorted and finessed, the Edward Low Dispute, all by itself, has become a figurative but quite useful quick slip of the switchblade knife between the ribs of professional archaeologists for the same reason—vengeance that gives the professional archaeology side bad PR.

In light of all that I have written above, I have come to my own personal conclusion about this so-called con game many artifact collectors believe professional archaeologists are running to steal artifacts from collectors and ordinary citizens. I am hereby calling bullshit on it. Do you hear that artifact collectors?  This long-time, con game accusation of yours is nothing but pure bullshit.

Sure. If you dig up a large carved statue like “The Ancestor,” which is the Tennessee State Artifact, and you take it to a professional archaeologist and say:

Look at this huge artifact Fred and me just dug up on Tennessee Valley Authority land…

Well, you just openly confessed to violating the Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1979 and other federal laws—including the one against theft of federal property. That is one artifact you will never get back—along with your pickup truck—because that statue was never your property to begin with. It is stolen property that must go back to its original owner (TVA and the American public). Anything so blatant as that lies outside the boundaries of this con game I have heard so much about from artifact collectors over the years.

The original mistake both sides made in the Edward Low Dispute was their failure to draw up and sign a legal, mutually binding artifact loan contract or artifact donation contract. Either document would have left no basis for any dispute over final ownership of the Low Tablet.

Paranoia and anxiety run wild in the American artifact collector community these days. Nonetheless, if an artifact collector ever wants to show a legally obtained and legally owned artifact to a professional archaeologist or museum director—and she is afraid she will never see her artifact again—all she has to do is have her attorney draw up a contract (or other written agreement) saying that the artifact is being loaned for archaeological examination for a specified period of time. A few sharp, close-up, color photographs of the artifact with a centimeter scale in each photograph should be part of the contract. The owner of the artifact and the professional archaeologist or museum director must both sign the legally binding contract or agreement. When the specified time in the contract or agreement expires, the professional archaeologist or museum director must surrender the artifact to its owner. That should dispel most of the unwarranted collector paranoia and anxiety about temporarily leaving an artifact with one of us professional archaeologists for examination.

A Note about Showing Up Out of “Nowhere” to Be Marginalized, Oppressed, Abused, and Killed

Most professional archaeologists have encountered a unique oddity with regard to the average American citizen and their perspective on the American Indian. My parents were born in 1910 and 1911. They never knew a single American Indian personally because hardly any American Indians lived in their Middle Tennessee town (Gallatin, Tennessee) in the 20th century. Their knowledge of American Indians came from reading childhood books and stories about the Wild West or from watching fictional re-enactments of it in cowboy and Indian movies or in the various western drama series on television in the 1950s and 1960s.

Their generation’s knowledge of the American Indian went back in time to only about 1492, and I suspect that is still true for many American citizens today. They apparently thought the American Indians immigrated to the United States (from a place called Central Casting) not too long before the white man arrived in the New World. Moreover, the primary purpose of the American Indian immigration from Central Casting was to be marginalized, oppressed, abused, and killed in the movies and on TV to entertain the overall American population.

Beginning in 1971 and continuing (off and on) until about 1977, I worked a job at The Parthenon (the Metropolitan art museum in Nashville). I did everything from working in the gift shop to caring for the famous Cowan Collection of American paintings to working in The Grotto Art Gallery, which was a massive display of American Indian artifacts from Tennessee, Mesoamerica, and the Peruvian lowlands. During my time there, particularly in the gift shop and The Grotto Gallery, I must have seen or talked to well over one million people from all over the world.

Most of our museum visitors were American citizens—some from Tennessee—but mostly from places like Wisconsin, Colorado, Oregon, Michigan, New York, Massachusetts, Florida, etc. When I was working in The Grotto Gallery and talking to our many visitors, one thing became crystal clear to me over time. Most of our visitors had a time-depth perception of the American Indian that went back (at best) only a few centuries to Christopher Columbus in 1492—and in far, far, far too many cases—only about 100 to 175 years in the American West (courtesy of the movies and TV). Most of our visitors had no idea when or how the American Indians first arrived in the United States—except that it must have been on some key date just a few short years before the white man first arrived in North America. Of course, in their minds, this was the key date when the first American Indians made their initial long trek from Central Casting to first populate the United States.

I was absolutely appalled at how massive and widespread this ignorance was—and how incredibly deep it went. It was not lodged in just one age group. Kids were affected by it. Some of the kids arrived at The Parthenon from other summer vacation stops. They were dressed in plains Indian headdresses and outfitted with rubber tomahawks, mimicking the American Indians who were shot by the blue pony soldiers on TV nearly every night in the 1960s. Teenagers bore this weight of ignorance, middle age people exhibited it, and so did the old ladies from Wisconsin. Most of these people knew one thing for sure though—American Indians had always lived in a portable structure called the tipi—all of them:

Well, the ones we see on Gunsmoke do.

Observing all of this ignorance took me back in time to my own school days (Grades 1-12) here in Tennessee. (There was no kindergarten back then in Gallatin, Tennessee.) American Indians were touched on very briefly in our social studies and history classes, usually in the context of those:

…awful red savages who killed our nice, white, Christian settlers for no good reason.

It was all just a quick touch on the shoulder to count coup on the American Indians—and then quickly on to the really important people in American history—such as those dead white presidents and founding fathers on our money. After all, most of our school teachers were white people—and most people in mid-20th century Gallatin knew that real Americans had always been white as the driven snow. (LOL)

Nowadays, I am an old guy who walks with a cane, and it has been decades since I worked in any museum. Is such ignorance of American Indians still so widespread as it once was among the American people? I do not know for sure—but I do have my suspicions about it.

One thing I do know.  The public school administrators and teachers are trying to do much better by the American Indians than they once did in our Tennessee public schools. However, I cannot say the same for all of the American companies that publish K-12 social studies textbooks, which are often based on prototype textbooks created for the public schools in Texas.

Just in case you did not know, Texas is the modern day laughingstock of American K-12 education and home to the infamous Texas State Board of Education (TSBOE). Unlike in most of our 50 states, the TSBOE is a publicly elected body, often dominated by Christian fundamentalist prejudices and right wing extremist ideological shenanigans that directly affect public school curricula and textbook contents. Historically, the TSBOE has shown a strong tendency toward short-changing minority groups in an attempt to make sure that a good K-12 education in Texas is an education of the white people, by the white people, and for the white people—so God help the white people.

One of the social studies textbooks my kids used here in the Oak Ridge public schools began with a long chapter devoted to the Americans Indians, including American Indian prehistory and archaeology. Rather than a quick touch and run, their teachers actually stopped for a reasonable amount of time and dwelled on teaching their students about American Indian prehistory, history, and cultures. That was the good news!!!

The bad news was the content of that chapter in their textbook, particularly the portions dealing with the prehistory of the eastern United States. It had a lot of incorrect information in it. I am not sure how it got that way, but my political activist wrangling with the TSBOE for the last 11 years has taught me one thing for certain. Writing a K-12 social studies textbook from scratch is like making sausage. Watching it being created, written, reviewed, revised, and published is a real mess most people would rather not see.

In the front of my kids’ social studies textbook, I noticed a long list of contributors and consultants with various academic backgrounds. The consultant for archaeology was a southwestern archaeologist who was a professor at a university in one of our Rocky Mountain states. That went a long way toward my understanding of all the textbook errors about archaeology here in the East. American archaeologists tend to be trained in the archaeology of a particular region of our country. Take them out of their region, and things get a little shaky in the knowledge realm.

I sat down with my kids’ textbook one night and did a formal, written review of the section on prehistory, nicely and politely pointing out all of the mistakes in it. I sent my review to the archaeologist who supposedly helped oversee and review the writing of that chapter. The archaeologist never responded to my review. I had hoped this archaeologist and the textbook publisher would correct the errors when they revised that chapter for the next edition, but I do not know if that ever happened.

Personally, I would like to see all of these long-standing clouds of ignorance about American Indians and the prehistory of the United States burned away. The near disappearance of cowboy and Indian movies from our theaters and TV western series from our most watched TV networks is helping with that. Our Tennessee public school administrators and school teachers appear to be trying harder to include American Indian prehistory and history in social studies textbooks—and dwell upon them for a good while in class—and do so respectfully and without bias or prejudice. However, I suspect this is a bit spotty all over the United States as a whole, and we probably have a long way left to go before all of our American K-12 students are able to attain an adequate measure of knowledge, love, and respect for the diverse cultures and very long time depth (at least 14,000 years) of the American Indian in the United States and everywhere else in the Western Hemisphere.

Questions Artifact Collectors Pose to Professional Archaeologists: Question No. 9

Question No. 9: My Uncle George is an artifact collector like me. Some professional archaeologists did excavations at a site in my county back in the 1990s. My Uncle George used to dig for artifacts on that site, and he found a bunch of them too. He also had a lot of rare historical background information and old documents on that site. George provided all of that background information to the professional archaeologists and showed them all the artifacts he had found at that site before the excavations began. When the written report on the excavations came out, the “Acknowledgements” section effusively praised my Uncle George for the help he provided and called him a valuable “avocational archaeologist” without whom the project could not have been completed. Well, during the excavation summer, my sister went to a bar one Friday night here in the county, and some of those archaeologists were loud and drinking heavily at the table next to her table. She said the archaeologists were laughing and joking about my Uncle George and saying terrible things about him. Why would they say such terrible things about my Uncle George in that bar and then praise him so much in that written report on their excavations?  I don’t get it, do you?


Yes, I do.  Many professional archaeologists strongly dislike artifact collectors who dig for artifacts because of all the damage uncontrolled digging without appropriate recordation does to archaeological sites and the archaeological context of the various artifacts and features beneath the ground surface at the site. A few other professional archaeologists just plain hate artifact collectors. That is why they were joking around and saying bad things about your Uncle George in that bar.

The two-faced approach many professional archaeologists take toward artifact collectors can be easily explained by looking at the subject of human social roles. Unfortunately, many people take a one-time, shotgun approach to social roles without really thinking about what they are doing.  For example, most people see your uncle as a man named George, and they think his role in life is just “being Uncle George.” Social roles and social role playing are really much more diverse and complicated than that.

In reality, each human being has many different social roles that they play in life, and they may switch from playing one role to playing another role (or 7 roles) multiple times throughout any given day. For example, your Uncle George may play the role of dad and the role of husband. When he goes to work in the morning, he switches to play the role of civil engineer. He also plays the role of manager for the entire civil engineering department.  If he goes to church on Wednesday night, he plays the role of usher, and he then switches to the role of deacon during the church service. He has team bowling scheduled after church on Wednesday nights, and he goes to the local bowling alley to assume the role of highest scoring team bowler. When he gets home at night, he assumes the role of late night garbage disposal man, and from there he quickly switches to the role of dog care specialist, which he does every night of the week when he walks the dog right before bedtime—a role assigned to him by his wife Sylvia. You see?  Each of us plays many different social roles in life each day.

Now, we go back to Uncle George, role playing, artifact collecting, and professional archaeologists. When your Uncle George is out in a field digging randomly for artifacts, he is playing the role of artifact collector, and his thoughtless, indiscriminate, random approach to digging for artifacts destroys valuable intact archaeological deposits, usually without him even knowing that he is doing something bad. Professional archaeologists detest it when your Uncle George plays this role because of all the destruction that happens when he plays it. However, when your Uncle George found out about the proposed professional archaeological excavations at that site in your county and decided to help the professional archaeologists out one morning, he switched his role playing to avocational archaeologist for several hours (perhaps not recognizing the name of that role and the fact that he had assumed that role). By taking on that role, he did a very good thing for once with artifacts and archaeology. The professional archaeologists praised him for that in their written report—because avocational archaeologist was indeed the role he assumed for those few hours. Later that afternoon, your Uncle George may have switched his role back to artifact collector and may have begun random digging for artifacts at some other archaeological site.

The professional archaeologists at the bar table next to your sister’s table were joking about your Uncle George and saying terrible things about him because of his role play as a destructive artifact collector. They were not being judgemental on his whole life, his whole character, or his many other social roles in life—just his role as a destructive artifact collector. Later on in the following year, when the archaeologists were writing the professional report on their excavations, they fondly remembered those very special few hours when your Uncle George switched roles (however briefly) to the new role of avocational archaeologist. They really did appreciate that switch and all of the help he provided—and they were more than willing to publicly praise him for all of that help he provided in that new—but brief—role as avocational archaeologist.

In addition, there is a good manners factor that always enters a professional archaeologist’s head when he is writing the “Acknowledgements” section in an archaeological report.  It would be bad manners to say:

Highly destructive, stupid shit artifact collector George Doe helped us out some.

No sane archaeologist is ever going to write something that rude and all-sweeping into the text of a published archaeological report. Therefore, when it comes time to write an archaeological report, professional archaeologists choose to use good manners and always remember positively a person who helped them out in one of their best social roles—avocational archaeologist—no matter how brief and/or discontinuous that particular social role play might have been.