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 13,000 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.

When your Uncle George found out about the proposed professional archaeological excavations at that archaeological 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). Your Uncle George told the archaeologists everything he knew about the site; he shared all of his old documents on the site; he told them where he had been digging on the site; and he showed them all of the artifacts he had found on the site. Moreover, your Uncle George was very patient with the visiting archaeologists by allowing them to take multiple photographs of the prehistoric items in his collection, take caliper measurements on some artifacts, and do whatever else they needed to do with the items in his collection.

By taking on that social role as an avocational archaeologist, Uncle George 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 that will end up on a library shelf for the next 200 years. 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.

Questions Artifact Collectors Pose to Professional Archaeologists: Question No. 8

Question No. 8: I once overheard a college archaeology student mention something I had never heard of before. It was some sort of book with the title Pothunter Picture Book. I could not find that anywhere on Amazon.com. Can you tell me anything about this book?


Yes. It is not the title of a book. It is a pejorative term some (but not all) professional archaeologists and archaeology graduate students throw around in casual conversation to express and emphasize their extremely low opinion of artifact collectors. I am not sure how old this term is. To the best of my recollection, I first heard or read it sometime in the 1970s, but I have encountered it a little more often in recent years (perhaps in the last 20 years). I suspect it is most often used by archaeology graduate students in casual conversation. Just speculating, young graduate students tend to be a lot more concerned than most people about their current social status within the realm of archaeology—and they tend to mentally measure themselves against various other people—which might explain why this term shows up in their conversations.

Generally, the pothunter portion of the term refers to artifact collectors in the United States who surface hunt, dig, or swish around on stream bottoms to find the Native American artifacts needed to enhance and grow their collections. The term pothunter was most commonly used for such artifact collectors before the advent of the term looter, which is widely used today.

Pothunter was used primarily in the 1960s, 1970s, and a portion of the 1980s. This was a time before most states had enacted burial laws that protect Native American burials from vandalism and looting—-and before enactment of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990 (NAGPRA). Those were the days when American artifact collectors understood that museum grade artifacts were often (but not always) placed with the ancient dead during prehistoric Native American burial ceremonies. Whole pottery vessels were commonly used as burial furniture (an Old World archaeology term) to accompany the dead. Many artifact collectors concentrated on identifying human burials and digging into them to find and take home various kinds of artifacts. Over much of the nation, whole, undamaged pottery vessels in human burials were considered to be really great prizes to enhance a personal collection—hence the term pothunter.

Just as a brief and quite local aside, the term “pothunter” quickly became a misnomer for artifact collectors in one area of Middle Tennessee by the middle 1970s. Artifact collectors in the Middle Cumberland region were still digging into stone box burials at that time, and Mississippian pottery vessels were sometimes found with the dead and taken home by collectors. However, local artifact collector tastes at that time were quickly shifting away from ceramic vessels and toward shell artifacts of the Mississippian period, such as long strings of conch shell beads, columella ornaments, and particularly engraved shell gorgets:

This shift in local interest was sparked by a few artifact collectors who discovered a stone box cemetery right next to an island in Old Hickory Lake. Most of the burials were in shallow water next to the island. The ancient individuals buried in many of those stone boxes were accompanied by what the collectors perceived to be a far more than normal occurrence of Atlantic conch shell artifacts. The stone box burials next to this island were intensively and extensively looted by local artifact collectors in the early to mid-1970s. Old Hickory Lake was a project of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) in the 1950s, and USACE was still administering the dam, lake, and some properties along the lake and within it when this looting occurred. Therefore, the island where this stone box burial cluster was discovered may have been under USACE ownership or control when the looting occurred. For all practical purposes, it has long been my perception that this island and the underwater stone box burials were just a small portion of a much larger Mississippian period site (then underwater) that was thoroughly destroyed by USACE construction activities and looting by local artifact collectors.      

The picture book portion of the term pothunter picture book refers to two different types of publications American artifact collectors are known to enjoy. One type consists of the various artifact collecting periodicals many collectors receive by subscription in their mailboxes at home. Several such periodicals have existed over the years. One such periodical is entitled the Prehistoric American (GIRS 2006). Such periodicals are well-known for the many high-quality, glossy, color photographs of artifacts that are distributed throughout their pages—along with some text about the artifacts.

The second type of picture book popular among American artifact collectors is the Native American art or coffee table book. Two examples that come to mind are Sun Circles and Human Hands: The Southeastern Indians—Art and Industry (Fundaburk and Foreman 1957) and the far more recent book entitled Hero, Hawk, and Open Hand: American Indian Art of the Ancient Midwest and South (Townsend and Sharp 2004). Such publications are filled nearly to the brim with glossy, high-quality color and/or black and white photographs of Native American artifacts. These picture books focus on Native American artifacts as beautiful and well-executed works of art that represent the highest artistic achievements of ancient Native Americans—-hence all of the glossy pictures in such books.

What about the pejorative use of the term pothunter picture book? Basically, some professional archaeologists and archaeology graduate students (but not all) use the term pothunter picture book to objectify and juvenilize artifact collectors.

My two kids are grown now, but when they were both toddlers, they loved kiddie books filled to the brim with art work and colorful photographs. The overall notion of the pothunter picture book is that most artifact collectors are so juvenile of mind (i.e., like toddlers) that they cannot be bothered with learning the deep academic details of American archaeology. They can only handle and engage with American archaeology by looking at books filled with fancy photographs of “blow-your-socks-off” artifacts. In other words, the term pothunter picture book is used to put artifact collectors down and make them look small like toddlers. It is a clever way for some professional archaeologists and archaeology graduate students (but not all) to play Tarzan for a casual moment in a conversation about artifact collectors and say, in effect:

Me everything——-you nothing.

The term pothunter picture book also has an odd sexual connotation to it. Playboy magazine was known for decades as a periodical that published high quality short stories and other kinds of modern literature that were of high interest to college English students. During the 1970s on college campuses, a popular thing to say was:

Yes, I am buying a copy of Playboy, but I am only doing it for the literary content—not the nude photographs.

Maybe so, but everyone knew the nude photographs were a very close second, and male masturbation was a major use for both soft and hard pornography.

Sometimes professional archaeologists and archaeology graduate students have seen the pothunter picture book as the artifact collector’s Playboy magazine. What is the idea here? Once again, artifact collectors cannot be bothered with learning the deep academic content of American archaeology, so they seek out pothunter picture books to get a good mental orgasm from looking at the glossy pictures of fantastic artifacts—and the more great artifact photographs packed into a pothunter picture book—the more mental orgasms artifact collectors can get. In this regard, it is interesting to note that the 40th anniversary edition of the artifact collector journal Prehistoric American–-just like Playboy magazine—contained a large, glossy, centerfold photograph of a magnificent Native American pipe (GIRS 2006).

One of my professional archaeology colleagues and I believe strongly that a Ph.D. archaeologist and several Ph.D. ethnographers should team up to do a very deep, comprehensive, and concise ethnographic study of the small, obscure tribe known as “American Archaeology.” When their honest final report is published and the whole truth about this tribe comes out, we feel reasonably certain the members of the tribe will capture the ethnographic team, torture its members for days on end, and conclude their suffering by burning them alive at the stake. American archaeology has a long history of being a vicious, war-like tribe that rages against selected outsiders and outside groups—and even consumes some of its own members. This tribe also has a lot of dirty laundry in it, and it has a more than disturbing unwillingness to honestly face up to and deal with the tribe’s many problems—most of them social problems that exist within the tribe.

It was necessary to air just a little bit of that dirty laundry to answer this question. My answer was not designed to offend anyone in the American archaeology tribe or to offend the tribe of artifact collectors. I just answered this question to the best of my ability, based on my own personal observations over the past 48 years.


Fundaburk, Emma L. and Mary D. F. Foreman (Editors) 1957. Sun Circles and Human Hands: The Southeastern Indians—Art and Industry. Self-Published by Emma L. Fundaburk,  Luverne, Alabama.

Genuine Indian Relic Society, Inc. (GIRS) 2006. Prehistoric American: Celebrating Our 40th Year of Publication, (XL) 4: 3-60. Hynek Printing LLC, Richland Center, Wisconsin.

Townsend, Richard F. and Robert V. Sharp (Editors) 2004. Hero, Hawk, and Open Hand: American Indian Art of the Ancient Midwest and South. The Art Institute of Chicago. Yale University Press, New Haven, Connecticut.

Questions Artifact Collectors Pose to Professional Archaeologists: Question No. 7

Question No. 7: You professional archaeologists use the words “looting” and “looter” an awful lot these days. How do you professional archaeologists define those two terms? My collector buddies tell me those two terms apply only to illegal surface hunting and illegal digging for artifacts on federal, state, or local government lands. Is that right?


No.  That is not right. In fact, legality or illegality has absolutely nothing to do with the formal definitions of these two terms. Furthermore, these two terms have nothing to do with a person’s age, land ownership, or whether a person has given an artifact collector permission to hunt or dig for artifacts on their land. Read on down, and all of this will be explained in great detail—and with a little illustrative comedy from The Three Stooges

The term looting refers to the act of removing one or more prehistoric or historic-era artifacts from their most recent archaeological context on the ground surface, beneath the ground surface, or underwater—by any person who is not a qualified professional archaeologist (or someone under their training or supervision)—for the purpose of owning the artifacts as private property—and selling the artifact(s), trading the artifact(s), or retaining ownership of the artifact(s) for personal recreation or material investment.

The term looter is defined as any person who commits the act of looting for artifacts in a fieldwork context. Once again, by definition, a looter is any artifact hunter who is not a qualified professional archaeologist—or is an ordinary person operating without training in field archaeology or operating outside of supervision by a professional archaeologist.

I know the key question that is uppermost on your mind after reading those two definitions, so here it is:

Do you mean to tell me that if I am a citizen of Tennessee, I call up my friend Ned Brooks, he gives me written permission to surface hunt or dig for artifacts at an archaeological site on his land—with me in 100 percent compliance with Tennessee cultural resources law and human burial laws—and I go surface hunting or digging at Ned’s place—you professional archaeologists officially define me as a looter?

Yes. You betcha!!! That is absolutely correct!!! I have been involved in American archaeology (on and off—one way or another) for the past 48 years. That was the everyday convention among professional archaeologists, archaeology graduate students, and archaeology undergraduate students throughout my eight years in the Department of Anthropology at The University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UTK). That is how the terms looting and looter were used—every day—in our formal academic discussions. They were used that way in casual archaeological discussions over a beer at a local bar on Friday nights. They were used that way over a brown bag lunch, and they were used that way in the Chevy Suburban on the long drive home from a day of archaeological fieldwork. I have never heard the terms looting or looter used any other way or by any other definition—-whatsoever—by any other archaeologist in the United States across my 48 years of experience.

I have seen a few of the discussions about this subject among artifact collectors at various on-line collector venues. I have read the comments where collectors swear up one side and down the other that they cannot possibly be defined as a looter because they never illegally hunt, dig, or swish around for artifacts on government land or under government waters. They can talk all they want to about it—talk themselves blue in the face if they like—twist it around however they like—but no matter how much they talk or twist—if they are legally surface hunting in a field or legally digging somewhere for artifacts to take home—without professional field training or supervision—the professional archaeology community in the United States officially defines them as looters.

Yes. I know the next question that is on your mind right now, so let us quickly go there and say a few words about that one too:

Well….what about my three-year-old daughter? We go hiking on her grandfather’s huge farm and sometimes arrive at a plowed field with arrowheads in it. If she pockets one of those arrowheads to take home, and her grandpa says it is okay to take it, do you professional archaeologists define my toddler sweety as a looter?

Yes. Your little toddler sweety is technically a looter. Once again, the terms looting and looter have nothing to do with a person’s age, legalities or illegalities, who owns a property, whether a property owner gives a person permission to hunt for artifacts, or whether the property owner says it is okay to take the artifacts home as personal property. All archaeological sites, the artifacts on them (on land or under water), and their specific archaeological contexts are considered to be precious, highly valuable, and nonrenewable cultural resources—regardless of who owns them. The terms looting and looter are framed and used solely in terms of cultural resource protection and proper archaeological qualification concerns—specifically protecting those scientifically valuable resources from surface hunting, digging, and stream bottom swishing by unqualified amateurs.

Here is a quick and helpful list that further explains this, but it is not necessarily an exhaustive list:

(1) If you are an artifact collector and you are legally surface hunting for artifacts on a privately owned tract of land with the landowner’s oral or written permission, then your surface collecting is considered to be looting by the professional archaeology community in the United States.  You are considered to be a looter.

(2) If you are an artifact collector and you are legally digging for artifacts on a tract of privately owned land with the landowner’s oral or written permission, then your digging for artifacts is considered to be looting by the professional archaeology community in the United States. You are considered to be a looter.

(3) If you are an artifact collector and you are legally hunting for artifacts on the bottom of a creek or stream that is privately owned and you have the landowner’s oral or written permission to do so, then your bottom hunting is considered to be looting by the professional archaeology community in the United States. You are considered to be a looter.

(4) If you are the owner of a tract of land and you surface collect or dig for artifacts at a site on your own land—and you are not a qualified professional archaeologist (or someone trained or supervised by one), then you are looting an archaeological site on your own land. The professional archaeology community in the United States considers you to be a looter. (Remember—the terms looting and looter are framed in terms of professional qualifications and protecting a cultural resource—no matter who owns the land on which the resource is located.)

(5)  If you are surface collecting or digging for artifacts illegally on federal, state, or local government lands or you are illegally searching for artifacts in a government-owned or government-controlled river, lake, or stream (or the government-owned or government controlled-banks of these water bodies), then you are looting government property. The professional archaeology community and the government agency responsible for its cultural resources consider you to be a looter.

Let me guess? Your jaw has just dropped to the floor, and your mouth is wide open with amazed disbelief. If you are an American artifact collector and you have read this main blog post all the way down to this point on the page, you may be feeling like that tall Mexican guy with greasy hair in an old episode of The Three Stooges, entitled Sappy Bull Fighters. Please click the white triangle on the following safe video clip, drag the red time ball over to the 6:58 mark, and let it play for about three minutes:

“I Will Ki-i-i-l-l-l-l-l-l-l-l-l-l-l You!!!!!!!!!

Well, if I were an artifact collector, I might feel that angry too. Believe me, I am quite familiar with how angry some artifact collectors get when facing up to assorted truths they would rather not see or hear.

Nonetheless, that is how the professional archaeology community in the United States looks at artifact collectors who find their own artifacts out in American fields, caves, rockshelters, streams, etc. It is called looting, and those who do it are called looters. If you are an artifact collector who does any kind of fieldwork to find new artifacts for your collection—and you are not a qualified professional archaeologist (or a person trained in field archaeology or supervised by an archaeologist), then you are considered to be a looter.

I will now add a couple of fairly rare exceptions to what I have said here about looting and looters. Professional archaeologists refer to some persons as avocational archaeologists, a term which is far different from amateur archaeologist, artifact collector, or looter. This term includes people such as my late friend H.C. “Buddy” Brehm, who lived in Nashville, and his still-living local friend John Dowd. They are not considered to be looters because they know how to do professional quality archaeological fieldwork and have worked very closely with professional archaeologists for many years. They are highly intelligent people who, in my humble opinion, could have easily earned an M.A. or Ph.D. degree in anthropology or archaeology, if they had ever had the time away from work or had wanted to do so. Avocational archaeologists have made wonderful contributions to American archaeology, and the Society for American Archaeology has given John Dowd a major award for his lifetime of contributions to Tennessee archaeology. (High five John!!!!)

In addition, a few other people (very, very, very few—I might add) ) learn how to do professional-quality field archaeology more or less entirely on their own through a program of deep personal study in books, manuals, and journal articles written by professional archaeologists—and sometimes with a little field school training. Such people are by nature extremely intelligent, and they learn subject matter easily all by their lonesome. In fact, there is a formal term for such rare people. They are called autodidacts. Occasionally, one of these elite few may have a prior professional background in civil engineering, field geology, land surveying, or landscape architecture. Such people are not considered to be looters because they know how to do professional quality archaeological fieldwork—and they do it very well. Such people include—but are not limited to—the late Glenn Black in Indiana, young Richard Polhemus (now Dr. Richard Polhemus) in the Knoxville area, or Mr. S. David Dean in upper East Tennessee.

Many years ago, circa 1979, I was talking to my former professor and long-time friend, Dr. Charles H. Faulkner at UTK, in the morning of the day he first traveled to upper East Tennessee to meet with S. David Dean, who was self-excavating a large rockshelter site for the first time. Charlie did not know quite what to expect, and like all professional archeologists would be, he was afraid that he might just find another ordinary guy doing random, unprofessional digging in a rockshelter. Nonetheless, he was willing to risk checking it out and making a new friend, so he headed out toward Johnson City by car that cloudy morning. When Charlie arrived back at the department, I saw the weird look on his face. He was both shocked and amazed (flabbergasted actually) at what he had seen. Mr. Dean had quite literally self-taught himself how to do the highest-quality field archaeology (transit, grid system, and the whole works), and he was doing it in that rockshelter at a level of detail and quality that even the late British field archaeologist Kathleen Kenyon would have admired. Charlie was really impressed!!! S. David Dean, in association with East Tennessee State University, went on to make many excellent contributions to the archaeology of the Volunteer State—and he continues to do so today.

Now, hold on just a minute artifact collectors. After reading what I just wrote, I know what some of you are thinking because I grew up around artifact collectors. You have read Tribes That Slumber or Hiwassee Island by T.M.N. Lewis and Madeline Kneberg (or other popular books on archaeology); you have taken a close look at Antiquities of Tennessee by Gates P. Thruston; you know about that old 1876 book written by Dr. Joseph Jones; you own a copy of Sun Circles and Human Hands, and you read a copy of the Central States Archaeological Journal every quarter of the year. You love ancient Native American cultures and their artifacts with all of your mind, heart, and soul. That is all well and good, and very admirable, and I am glad you do. However, that does not put your level of knowledge about archaeology, particularly professional field archaeology, in the same class with the best avocational archaeologists or self-taught archaeologists in Tennessee or the other 49 states.

Excellent avocational archaeologists are light years ahead of you in what they know about archaeology in general and how to do competent, professional-quality field archaeology. Your little bit of knowledge about archaeology, as an artifact collector, is not a free ticket out of being defined as a looter by the professional archaeology community in the United States. If you are out on the American landscape surface hunting fields, digging random holes to find artifacts, trawling your fishing boat along a lake edge to pull artifacts out of the eroding banks, or scuba diving to feel around for artifacts on the bed of a river, most American archaeologists will use the term looting to describe what you are doing. They will also describe you as a looter.

It has always seemed to me that many artifact collectors in the United States are confused about the accepted and formal use of the terms looting and looter, exactly what they mean, how they are used in professional archaeology conversations or publications, and to whom they apply. I have tried my flat-out best to explain all of that to you in detail above. You might not like what I had to say, and it may even hurt a bit. I am sorry if it does. I was not trying to hurt your feelings. My sole purpose was to explain to you about the terms looting and looter, and how professional archaeologists regularly use them. It is my sincere hope that what I have written will be of some help to you.

Video Clip Credit: Columbia Pictures Corporation

Questions Artifact Collectors Pose to Professional Archaeologists: Question No. 6

Question No. 6:  Several of us artifact collectors have been giving this some serious thought. You professional archaeologists are always trying to pull the damper down on our collecting activities. We have been thinking about pulling the damper down on you guys. We are reaching out to our elected state representatives in some of the 50 states to get them on our side:

(1) To protect us and our artifact collecting activities from the depredations of you professional archaeologists.

(2) We have a proposal for those state representatives (State House of Representatives and State Senate) who are willing to support us. Those millions and millions and millions of artifacts lying underground on state lands and under state waters are worth a huge amount of money. Many state governments are running out of funds and operating in the red with their annual budgets. We are asking our elected state representatives to support us in an effort to legalize collector digging for artifacts on state lands and hunting for artifacts under state waters. We collectors would keep a small portion of the artifacts and/or a small portion of the proceeds from public sales of the artifacts. State governments would keep the largest percentage of the monetary proceeds from sales of the artifacts to offset a portion of the annual state budget shortfall. Rather than sitting in the ground and decaying away, all of the artifacts would be rescued. Artifact buyers, their friends, and members of the general public could see the artifacts and enjoy them at artifact shows—rather than hide them from the public like you archies do. State governments would rake in a lot of extra money—badly needed money to support the state budget.

What do you professional archaeologists think about these two ideas?


Seriously?  I cannot speak for all archaeologists.  However, I think you should not have been so dumb as to reveal your plans in public. Now that you have done so, government archaeologists will be able to formulate effective governmental strategies and tactics to prevent that from ever happening. If you are going to battle against an opponent, you never telegraph your battle plans to the enemy side. (Score: State Governments 1; Collectors 0).

Artifacts on state lands and in state waters do not belong exclusively to a select few artifact collectors who want to find, own, and/or sell those artifacts for money or personal pleasure. Tennessee has a population that will be about 7 million strong in the upcoming 2020 U.S. Census. Tennessee archaeological sites and their artifacts on state lands and in state waters belong to all Tennesseans (not just you), and the State of Tennessee protects and conserves those sites and artifacts in trust for the currently living people of Tennessee and for future Tennesseans. That is one of the many key missions of the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation.  The word conservation is not in that name as a careless after thought—you know.

The State of Tennessee has no need for additional annual revenue because its state budget is balanced and operates in the black each year. In fact, Tennessee is one of the few states that ends FY 2018 with a massive state budget surplus of about $500 million. Therefore, no government-sponsored or government-approved artifact mining on state lands and in state waters—-or any other similarly insane shenanigans—are needed or wanted here in the Volunteer State.

In my honest opinion, no truly responsible elected leaders or governmental entities will ever allow individual or aggregate artifact collectors to destroy the archaeological context on archaeological sites via artifact mining on state lands and under state waters. I have been around for a long time, and I know that most fairly responsible artifact collectors look back in total disgust at the highly destructive artifact mining that was done at the Spiro Mounds in the early 20th century. Today many artifact collectors look down their noses with equal disgust at the few artifact collectors who run “pay to dig” operations or do mechanically assisted artifact mining and sifting. Therefore, I think any proposals like the one laid out in the second part of the question above would meet with more than substantial resistance from state governments, state citizens, and many artifact collectors in any given state. My best bet is that it would be a totally no-win situation for the artifact collectors who want to implement such a bizarre proposal.

Questions Artifact Collectors Pose to Professional Archaeologists: Question No. 5

This artifact collector question is going to sound outlandish to my professional archaeologist colleagues, but an artifact collector quite seriously posed a version of this question to me just a few short years ago.

Question No. 5: You professional archaeologists have already learned about all you are ever going to learn about the prehistoric Native American cultures and peoples in Tennessee and the United States. Given how much you already know and how little is left to learn, why don’t you professional archaeologists just quit your profession and turn all your archaeological sites over to us artifact collectors so we can rescue the artifacts still left in the ground before they decay away into nothing?


Famous American educator Robert C. Snyder can answer the first portion of that question for you, which is also true of American archaeology. Here is the money quote Snyder offered to a group of gifted high school students in the 1970s:

I am so very weary of hearing that the world is going to be blown up—that youth is not to be trusted—that there is no chance for greatness today—that most of the frontiers have been conquered. Let me say to you that all of these suggestions are untrue and will not come to pass, for we are actually just in the infancy of civilization, and you are living in a glorious age and day. Man is just beginning to crawl, so to speak.

We professional archaeologists have learned a lot about ancient Native Americans and historic-era Americans since the early 1800s. What we know now will pale in comparison to what we will know 100 years from now. When you consider the fact that professional archaeology, in the fully modern sense, began in the early 20th century with the famous Chicago Field Schools, sponsored by the University of Chicago, American professional archaeology is still in its infancy and “just beginning to crawl.” You would be amazed at the number of local geographic areas in the United States where very little to zero truly modern professional archaeological studies have ever been conducted in any real depth. Archaeologically speaking, the northwest half and central portion of the Tennessee county where I live are virtually unknown to professional archaeologists because so little professional work has ever been done there.

The artifacts—individually and all by themselves—in an archaeological site are not the most important and most valuable aspects of the site.  The archeological context of those artifacts is the most important and valuable aspect of every archaeological site. Basically, archaeological context consists of the three-dimensional spatial relationships that exist among the artifacts, features, human burials, dog burials, postmolds, postmold patterns, stratigraphy, soil characteristics, geological characteristics, and many other things on the ground surface of an archaeological site and buried in the soil beneath it. Digging by archaeologically untrained artifact collectors erases those contextual relationships—and it erases them forever—so no person in the future can read the complex story of the prehistoric cultures and peoples that is written in the soil on an archaeological site. When archaeological context is not recorded in detail on paper during an excavation, it is gone forever.

For some reason that is hard for me to fathom, most of the artifact collectors I have ever known do not understand this—even after it is explained to them—or they do not want to understand it because a trophy for the den wall is a much higher priority than erasing the most scientifically valuable aspect (archaeological context) of any given archaeological site. Artifact collector activities render archaeological context anywhere from damaged (to various degrees) all the way up to totally extinct on archaeological sites. How do we professional archaeologists feel about that? It is like you might feel if some guy named Buford proudly walks into a hunting lodge in Arkansas some future day and says this to his friends:

Hey guys!!! Look at this!!! I just used my .22 to kill off the last known bald eagle in the United States.  This kind of bird is now extinct, and I’m proud to say that I’m the guy who made it happen. Good or bad, my name is going to be in the history books for sure now! This old Haliaeetus will never leucocephalus another limb in this forest again!!!

My friend Harvey is a great taxidermist, and he’s going to make this dead bird look “real natural like” for me and rig up this baby so I can mount it on my den wall.

We professional archaeologists plan to keep on doing professional archaeology, and we will never quit trying to learn more about prehistoric and historic cultures and peoples here in the United States.  We are here to stay because there is far more left to learn than what we already know.  We will not abandon our profession, and we will not turn our surveyed archaeological sites over to artifact diggers so they can pillage them for artifacts—and in the process—erase the highly valuable archaeological context at those sites.

Most of the artifacts on the ground surface and in the soil on American archaeological sites have been there for 50 to 13,000 years. Lithic artifacts and well-made ceramic artifacts are pretty durable—with human remains, bone artifacts, and antler artifacts less so—primarily because of soil acidity. Outside of the threats posed by land development, most artifacts will keep on the ground surface and underground for a very long time into the future.

Yes. I know it is illegal to kill bald eagles, and no one in their right mind would display one they had killed because of that————-yet. With President Donald J. Trump and his evil minions in office, our recovering national population of bald eagles could be put in danger of extinction once again. The federal Endangered Species Act of 1973 is widely known to be one of the chief items on Trump’s list of statutes and regulations to be gutted or severely weakened.  That would be such a shame when you consider all of the progress that has been made so far in protecting bald eagles (and other species) while increasing their populations throughout the United States.

A Question for You Artifact Collectors

I am wondering why our main blog post entitled Is It Against the Law to Hunt for Indian Artifacts in Tennessee? is so popular? It gets numerous visitors each day, along with several other posts. I realize spammers may just be grabbing onto it somehow each day for their own purposes through some roving bot thing—and it registers as a visit to the blog. However, this is what most concerns me—meaning—the possibility that this is what is going on with all these visits and views:

Fred, I’ve read that blog post 377 times, and I still don’t understand it. Well, I gotta go back on line for the 378th time.  Maybe that one will be the charm and everything will fall into place for me.

From my past visits to artifact collector forums on-line, one of the things I learned is that many artifact collectors are absolutely convinced that every American cultural resources law (and the regulations promulgated under it) has loopholes that will allow them to collect on federal and state property without fear of being arrested and prosecuted. Therefore, if they can learn the details of the laws and regulations by carefully reading the legal text or reading interpretations of the text, they will be able to identify the loopholes—and sneak through one of them to get a free and clear elbow pipe or other artifact off state or federal land:

Fred, I read that blog post for the 378th time. I understand it now, but I still can’t find them loopholes. I know them loopholes must be in there somewhere, but I can’t see them for the life of me.  All right. I’m going to read that post for the 379th time, and maybe one of them loopholes will finally jump out at me.

Give it up boys and girls. There are no loopholes. Cultural resource management and protection laws and regulations are not written by archaeologists alone. Teams of federal and state attorneys who support the U.S. Congress and state legislatures help with the writing of these laws and regulations. These attorneys have many years of legal education and experience in writing laws and regulations so tightly knit that a mouse fart would not squeeze through the tiniest crack in one of them. You can bash your heads against a steel wall for weeks or months on end—and never see any loopholes—simply because they are not there. That which does not exist cannot be seen or found:

I don’t believe you!!!  All them laws and regulations have loopholes. You just have to look real hard until you find one. You just don’t understand our thirst for new artifacts and how powerful it is. It just overwhelms us like the need to go pee!!!

Whatever. However, I will issue you one warning. If you ever think you have found a loophole, chances are extremely high that the thing you think is a loophole is not really a loophole—and that is why you will be sitting behind bars after jumping through that imaginary loophole.

Questions Artifact Collectors Pose to Professional Archaeologists: Question No. 4

Question No. 4: You professional archaeologists seem to be afraid we artifact collectors are going to get all the good artifacts before you do. Listen up! There’s millions and millions and millions of archaeological sites in the United States, and they are chocked full to bursting with great artifacts. The supply of ancient artifacts at these sites is virtually endless!!! We artifact collectors could hunt and dig for hundreds and hundreds and hundreds more years, and the artifact supply would never run out. These sites have enough artifacts to go around for everyone. After we artifact collectors take our fair share, there will still be many millions of great artifacts left over for you “archies” or anyone else who wants them. That being the case, why don’t you archies just get out of our way and quit hounding us about our collecting activities?


The term “archie” is a casual nickname artifact collectors sometimes use for professional archaeologists in the United States. Personally, I see it as a disgusting epithet—like the “n-word.” However, in the face of terms like pothunter, pot grabber, looter, and grave robber, I can see why artifact collectors came up with the term archie. But I have got to know. Does Archie wear a pith helmet—and if so—what does Marmaduke wear?

(1) Yes. Millions of archaeological sites are out there on the American landscape. However, all of those sites are not “chocked full to bursting with great artifacts.” A very large number of them are ephemeral campsites represented by light lithic scatters on the ground surface. Artifact collectors could dig for weeks or months on those sites and never take home any artifact suitable for mounting and hanging on a den wall. Sites like those probably far outnumber the archaeological sites that are “chocked full to bursting” with great artifacts. Therefore, the intact archaeological sites that do harbor some really great artifacts are fewer in number than you might think.

(2) Huge numbers of archaeological sites with great artifacts have already been pillaged by 19th century antiquarians and numerous early U.S. government archaeologists (or people working for them) who were not using modern approaches to site excavation and recording. Over the past 118 years, many more sites have been surface-collected to death or pillaged by the digging of artifact dealer minions and artifact collectors. All of the foregoing people acquired many great artifacts—and in doing so—they erased all or a portion of the archaeological context of those artifacts forever. As a result of it, the detailed prehistoric and historic stories written in the soil at those archaeological sites are gone to various degrees, and no one will ever be able to read those stories because they were erased. Archaeological reports that would fill whole libraries have been lost forever because archaeological sites were destroyed by artifact collectors before they could be properly excavated and reported.

(3)  Yes.  We do have many archaeological sites all over the country that have never been excavated at all or have never been fully excavated. Many of them contain great artifacts—especially sites out West. However, the supply of great artifacts in these sites is not virtually endless. What happens to the refrigerator in your kitchen if you get stuck inside your home for several weeks and cannot go to the supermarket? That refrigerator soon runs out of food. It will go empty. Archaeological sites are just like that refrigerator. They go empty of great artifacts on the ground surface and deep underground if artifact collectors surface hunt them to death and dig them to death. Professional archaeological activities on sites are equally destructive—the major difference being that the archaeologists record a site in detail on paper with notes, standard field forms, maps, and digital photographs as they surface collect or excavate.

Just to reiterate, if you surface collect a site to death or dig a site to death, then a day will come when no more great artifacts are present on the ground surface or below the ground surface. Artifacts are not living things. They do not marry each other underground, have wild sex with each other, and reproduce an endless supply of “baby great artifacts” that grow up underground to become “adult great artifacts.” However, to be quite honest with you, I have actually heard artifact collectors talk about an archaeological site with enthusiastic hope so unbounded that their unconscious minds were clearly pointed toward the notion of an endless supply of great artifacts at the site. Mounds run out of great artifacts. Caves run out of great artifacts. Stone box cemeteries run out of great artifacts. Open field archaeological sites run out of great artifacts. Listen artifact collectors!!! Archaeological sites run dry. How does that happen?

Here is one very good example. I know about a small Mississippian period stone box cemetery in the Inglewood suburb of east Nashville that has been pillaged to death by artifact collectors for many years. Many of these collectors were completely unaware that numerous other collectors in the past had already dug out this cemetery completely—and thoroughly destroyed it. How did that happen?  It happened something like this:

1930 – “Wow!!!  There’s stone box burials here. Let’s dig as many burials as we can find!!!”

1940 – “Geez Tommy! I just found an Indian grave. I bet no one else has ever dug here. Let’s start digging.”

1950 – “I bet lots of graves are here. We must be the first to know about them. Let’s dig.”

1960 – “John. We might find some great artifacts here.  Because we are the first collectors ever here—we should dig all these burials.

1970 – “Fred. I don’t think this cemetery has ever been dug. Let’s get after it.”

1980 – “Joe. A bulldozer snagged this here grave. I bet this cemetery has never been dug. Let’s dig it!”

1990 – A new house sits on top of this small, dug-to-death, and completely destroyed stone box cemetery where no great artifacts are left.

Archaeological sites do not contain a virtually endless supply of great artifacts. The supply dries up from either one intensive round of thorough collector digging or with multiple, incremental instances of thoughtless, socially nonconnective collector digging over time (as shown in the hypothetical chronology above). One collector’s hands often never know what another collector’s hands have already done in the past on an archaeological site.

The exact same thing happens with surface collecting in deep-plowed fields. If deep plowing, which is rare nowadays, goes 18-24 inches deep over time, it will eventually pull up nearly every nice artifact from that depth range. The only way it would pull up more great artifacts would be for a plow to go deeper into the top of the ancient living surface under the plow zone layer. If one or more surface collectors go to that field every year in the month of March for a number of years, the available number of great artifacts on the ground surface will run out. If surface collecting (and digging) goes on for hundreds of years at all archaeological sites (along with the destruction of sites by land development), a day will indeed come when all of the great artifacts are gone from all of our archaeological sites. What will the artifact collectors of the future do then?

So many times—so very many times—I have heard artifact collectors say words along these lines:

If I can just get these young kids interested in collecting artifacts, that interest will be so strong that when they are teenagers they will never steal a car, knock over a liquor store, or otherwise become juvenile delinquents. Collecting artifacts could quite literally save a kid’s life. Surely, saving a kid’s life is far more important than saving an archaeological site and its context.

Bubba. You do realize the problem with that—I hope!!!  One hundred or 200 years from now, some little boy or girl is going to say:

My teacher told me people used to find American Indian artifacts in plowed fields. I think that would be fun, but all the really interesting artifacts are gone now.  People took all the artifacts out of the ground. Nothing good was left for me to find on my grandpa’s farm or anywhere else around here. It’s really sad. I’d like to see what a real arrowhead looks like in a field, pick it up, hold it in my hand for a moment, and give it a close look.

That is what will happen one day if artifact collecting speeds on down the road at its current rate!!! Mark my word. It will happen. Today’s artifact collectors and land developers are careening down the highway to this future Hell right now—and that day will come. What you are doing as an artifact collector is not all about you and an ancient object you want out of the ground right now. What you are doing now destroys important things and adversely affects other people—both now and far into the future.

Kids can collect all sorts of things that are far less destructive than collecting artifacts and remain occupied with them enough to stay out of trouble. I grew up as a very poor kid in a tough, “poor white trash” (an indelicate term from the American South of the past) neighborhood. Collecting postage stamps—like my long-time archaeologist friend Dr. Gerald Schroedl does—kept me occupied, happy, and out of trouble in the midst of my childhood poverty and deprivation. The notion that artifact collecting alone has the power to save the lives and futures of kids is utter bullshit. Other hobbies and activities do it just as well.

(4) I very much doubt that professional archaeologists will ever get out of the way of artifact collectors and quit hounding them about their collecting activities. We care too much about preserving archaeological context, and we will do whatever we can to protect it from artifact collectors. The loss of it adversely affects the way professional archaeologists make their living—and it will continue to do so in the future. Because American archaeology is so poorly funded, trying hard to identify and preserve sites for the future—for posterity—is the best we can do right now.

The Society for American Archaeology (SAA), the principal professional organization for archaeologists in the western hemisphere, has a set of nine baseline ethical principles (click here) it expects all professional archaeologists to abide by in their work. Artifact collectors often wonder why most professional archaeologists are hounding them about their collecting activities. What is the root of it all? If you wonder where all of that ill will toward artifact collectors comes from, I am about to show you. It comes from two long-standing SAA ethical principles that professional archaeologists take as seriously as medical doctors do the famous Hippocratic Oath. Please take a look at these two SAA ethical principles:

Principle No. 1 – Stewardship

The archaeological record, that is, in-situ archaeological material and sites, archaeological collections, records and reports, is irreplaceable. It is the responsibility of all archaeologists to work for the long-term conservation and protection of the archaeological record by practicing and promoting stewardship of the archaeological record. Stewards are both caretakers of and advocates for the archaeological record for the benefit of all people; as they investigate and interpret the record, they should use the specialized knowledge they gain to promote public understanding and support for its long-term preservation.

Principle No. 3 – Commercialization

The Society for American Archaeology has long recognized that the buying and selling of objects out of archaeological context is contributing to the destruction of the archaeological record on the American continents and around the world. The commercialization of archaeological objects – their use as commodities to be exploited for personal enjoyment or profit – results in the destruction of archaeological sites and of contextual information that is essential to understanding the archaeological record. Archaeologists should therefore carefully weigh the benefits to scholarship of a project against the costs of potentially enhancing the commercial value of archaeological objects. Whenever possible they should discourage, and should themselves avoid, activities that enhance the commercial value of archaeological objects, especially objects that are not curated in public institutions, or readily available for scientific study, public interpretation, and display.

A bunch of overly grumpy professional archaeologists in widely separated places did not just wake up at the same time one unusual Thursday morning and independently decide all artifact collectors are bad news and in need of hounding. Today it all goes back to the two above principles, which are taught to undergraduate and graduate archaeology students at American universities. Archaeologists with different personalities tend to brain process these principles in different ways—often in very emotional ways.

A few days ago, I mentioned my late friend, Dr. Patricia Cridlebaugh (known affectionately as “Pitty Pat”), in the answer to another artifact collector question here on the Archaeology in Tennessee blog. She hated artifact collectors. Once upon a time, she quite seriously said to me:

I would rather see every ancient artifact in the United States destroyed than let even one of them fall into the hands of an artifact collector.

Strong stuff!!! However, I think this was just Pitty Pat’s very emotional way of saying that artifacts by themselves are not all that wonderful without their precise provenience and full archaeological context information to go with them—and damn it—most artifact collectors take the same reckless attitude toward precise provenience and archaeological context. They might rescue the artifact—but at the same time—-they fail to rescue its other most important aspects. In fact, they destroy precise provenience and contextual information as part of their digging—and that is every bit as reckless and unconscionable as destroying every ancient artifact in the United States.

A number of professional archaeologists are just as emotionally vehement about the above ethical principles as Pitty Pat was. Other professional archaeologists are moderately emotional or even less so—meaning there is an emotional spectrum that professional archaeologists fall into with regard to their personal feelings and the two above ethical principles. Personally, I tend to fall in the middle of that emotional spectrum. Some artifact collector activities really do piss me off. Other things they do, like legal surface collecting on private property with land owner permission, does not greatly upset me. However, I really do wish they would keep better records on their surface finds and precisely where they were found on an archaeological site.

I have to end this answer by telling you about one thing that surprised even me. You artifact collectors out there might want to sit up and take notice of it.

Just a few years ago, in one of the states here in the American Southeast, an artifact collector was in a deep hole he had dug and was scratching around for artifacts in it. I do not recall his name, so we will just call him Floyd for reference purposes herein. To the best of my recollection, he was doing illegal digging on federal or state property. Agency law enforcement got word of his activities and came out to arrest old Floyd and a couple of his buddies who were also digging at the site. When Floyd noticed the officers approaching him fast from afar, he jumped out of his digger hole and tried desperately to run away. During his run, he accidentally fell, perhaps off an embankment, and the hard landing resulted in his death. I later visited a Facebook page (cannot remember which one) where professional archaeologists and other readers were talking about this incident—the first news I had heard about it by the way—and they were laughing, joking, and kidding around about the dead artifact collector.

That surprised me because the death of a person—any person—is usually a sad matter worth serious contemplation. However, I also think this Facebook discussion was reflecting how very serious and how conservation-minded many professional archaeologists and other American citizens are when it comes to preserving the archaeological record in the United States.

Similarly, I have a good friend who loves African elephants (Loxodonta africana and Loxodonta cyclotis). If some poacher in Africa kills a protected elephant, my friend cries her eyes out and very seriously wants the poacher’s head on a platter (See the fate of John the Baptist in the Holy Bible). American artifact collectors need to understand that professional archaeologists and other conservationists love archaeological sites, endangered/threatened species, and vulnerable ecosystems (like ocean reefs) every bit as much as artifact collectors love collecting their artifacts. We get just as upset as you would if I were to visit your house with my hammer and smash your most prized artifacts. Well guess what?  You artifact collectors come to the archaeological sites we value so much with your digging tools and smash our artifact provenience and archaeological context. Is it any surprise that we get so upset about that?  Please——Just think about it.

Questions Artifact Collectors Pose to Professional Archaeologists: Question No. 3

Question No. 3: Why do you, as a professional archaeologist, write such long and detailed comments and responses on our on-line artifact collector forums?  Why do you think we want to read all of that?


This one is easy to answer. Professional archaeologists are taught to write archaeological reports, monographs, journal articles, etc. in as much detail as possible and with as much precision as possible. The idea is to always tell as thorough and complete a story as possible about the prehistoric or historic human past—in terms of what the available information and data will allow. Archaeologists may put the framework of an archaeological site report together, and tell the reader as full a story as possible. However, these initial stories often contain information and data holes that need to be filled in to make a story about the past more complete. Filling those holes often requires a lot of extra, secondary research time and writing. The holes may be filled by waiting longer to publish a report, or they may be filled by a later addendum to the report. In some cases, holes may be filled over time with a series of archaeology journal articles specific to filling in each hole in the overall story. The whole idea is to tell a full, detailed, and meaningful story—-and that requires many detailed facts and words.

Based on my own past experience, some artifact collectors feel “put upon” if they have to read anything longer than two or three sentences. To them, reading through three or four good-sized paragraphs feels like pulling teeth or climbing Mount Everest. This sounds like a problem with artifact collector literacy to me because it is not at all hard for numerous people to read through several paragraphs with excellent comprehension.

Back in my K-12 days, I remember quite a number of my fellow students in middle school and high school who could barely read at all:

The c-a-a-a-a t an dawg j-j-j-j-umphed ovr thuh mooooom.

I mean really!!! What do you do with something like that in an adult? Are we professional archaeologists supposed to write all of our archaeological reports, journal articles, and commentary so a nearly illiterate person can understand them? Must we take a 400-page archaeological report and write an eight-word synopsis of it so some odd number of illiterate artifact collectors can get the gist of it? Please? Give the parameters of everyday reality a little bit of a break here!!!

The exact words escape me now, but sometime in the past, I actually ran into a main post at an on-line artifact or treasure hunting forum—and it was not much bigger than this one:

I walked into the field. Picked up a Morrow Mountain.

What were the very serious, nonsarcastic artifact collector replies to this comment on the forum?  Try this on for size because it is very close to the comments I actually saw in response to that so-called story:

Wow Joe!!! That was one really great story you just told. We really enjoyed getting the complete rundown on that. Thanks a lot for your wonderful words!!!!!! We all appreciated it very much.

That is not a story!!!  I do not know what it is, but it is not a story. Let’s use the human body as an example. A story is like a whole human body, and this artifact collector just walked into the forum with the broken-off end of a collar bone. At the very least, a full human skeleton is the beginning of a story, and a real story is that skeleton with all the meat on its bones. We are talking about a complete, highly detailed story told in paragraphs.

Artifact collectors are always wondering why so many professional archaeologists do not take them seriously. This is one very good reason. I laughed my butt off when I first read that so-called “story” and the congratulatory responses to it on that forum. Illiterate and half-literate artifact collectors give the whole artifact collector community a bad name in the eyes of  the professional archaeology community. Those archaeologists who hate artifact collectors can easily use things like that as a convenient tool to unfairly tar and feather the entire artifact collector community.

One way to avoid this kind of problem would be for artifact collectors to get together and establish their own very serious national organization, similar to the Society for American Archaeology, and require members to meet certain established criteria to be accepted into the national collector community—and set the bar for entrance into the community to be higher rather than lower. For example, you could require each member to have at least a high school diploma and a certain required level of practical literacy to enter into the community. If the artifact collector community were able to speak with a solid, unified national voice, it would be much easier for the already organized and unified professional archaeology community to come together with you, hash out issues, and come to some reasonable cooperative agreements. Right now, that is impossible because the artifact collector community is made up of thousands of different artifact collectors who all want to spin off in their own personal directions.

Yes, I know. This has been tried before, and you failed. It would be nice if professional archaeologists could deal with a rigid, self-controlled, and written-standards-based artifact collector community that speaks nationally with one voice. You need to try it again and work harder at keeping it. Work hard to keep the artifact collector illiterati from destroying the organization “just so they can keep feeling comfortable.”

When archaeologically interesting things are found by collectors—things we professional archaeologists who are not haters would like to know about—it would be nice to know that every artifact collector in the community is capable of writing a highly detailed and well-written full story about what he or she found—and precisely where it was found. Is that asking too much? Yes, I know some of you try to do that in the Central States Archaeological Journal, but I seriously wonder how many artifact collectors are simply incapable of writing a detailed and coherent story about their personal finds. I would bet—just an off-the-cuff bet—that the number of artifact collectors who write such pieces for collector journals are few in number compared to the total artifact collector population in the United States.  Why am I concerned about that?  Simple:

For professional archaeologists, the artifact itself is nearly nothing—nearly nothing. The exact contextual circumstances of your find are EVERYTHING. Artifact collectors who find an artifact on or under the ground are proud of saying: “I rescued a piece of the past,” as if you have done something really wonderful for American prehistory or history.  In most instances, you have not done anything even remotely wonderful. It may be a nice-looking object made of rock, bone, or baked clay, but that is about all it is—a near nothing by itself. Knowing the exact, detailed location of your find on the landscape and under the ground, and the details of the specific archaeological context in which it was found, are EVERYTHING. That is where the truly valuable prehistory and history lies—in the location and context of the find—not in the artifact all by itself. The location and specific context in which the artifact was found are the things most in need of rescuing.

I have to tell you the truth—as a professional archaeologist. Whenever I hear an artifact collector proudly boasting about some artifact he just found and how he just rescued a piece of the past, it grates on my ears like fingernails on a slate blackboard. Why?  In reality, the artifact collector brought home a nice-looking piece of rock, pottery, or bone—and left the most valuable thing about that artifact in the ground—and more often than not—that most valuable thing is lost forever.

What happens when you try to explain all of that to many artifact collectors:

That there thing you just said.  I don’t understand that. It just screws my brain cells somethin’ awful. You get all the valuable prehistory and history straight out of the artifact alone don’t you.  I mean. You know a lot about archaeology after all them years of university studying—and knowing all of that—you just put the artifact down all by itself on a table top—and then all of a sudden like—the artifact speaks to you or something—and then you just write down whatever it says to you—and whatever it says is the valuable prehistory and history. Ain’t that about right? I always thought that was what you archaeologist guys were a doin’, and that’s why gettin’ the artifact all by itself is the most important thing.

No.  That is not what we professional archaeologists do today.  If you have been reading some old antiquarian books written between 1820 and 1930, like Gates P. Thruston’s Antiquities of Tennessee, I can see how you might have gotten that very wrong idea about how archaeologists work.

Americans no longer drive horses and buggies to get around town. We drive modern technological wonders like this thing:


With the possible exception of Paleo-Indian points, the idea that an artifact, sitting alone on a table top, speaks to a professional archaeologist the valuable story of prehistory and history is the sadly mistaken and largely discredited archaeology of a long ago, horse-and-buggy time in American history. For the most part, American archaeologists do not work anything like that today. American archaeology has advanced light years beyond that way of working—and archaeological context really is EVERYTHING today.

Therefore, American artifact collectors, the next time you proudly hold up an artifact you just found and say that you have just rescued a valuable piece of prehistory or history—and you think you deserve some sort of hearty congratulations for that from the American archaeology community—think again. If you do not know the precise—let me emphasize the word precise—provenience and context in which that artifact was found—then you have done almost nothing of any real value for American prehistory or history. Please be aware that “over yonder on Ned Baker’s farm” is not precise provenience and archaeological context. It is a low-level start——-but a lot more precise and detailed information than that is needed.

As it stands right now, any illiterate freakazoid named Bubba is automatically a member in good standing of the artifact collector community in the United States. The only requirements for entry into the community are an insatiable hunger for acquiring new artifacts and the ability to say:

Duh-h-h-h-h, that one shore is purdy.

You know that. I know that. Do better—and please quit asking us to excessively abbreviate what we write for your slowest community members. They  had their chance in K-12 English years ago, and they blew it!!! We should not have to cater to that at such a low level today. Many of us try to write more lengthy archaeological synopses in simple, everyday language for ordinary citizens, and we try to do that well.  However, we cannot practically go to extremes with it just because some artifact collector never learned how to read or write well.

Questions Artifact Collectors Pose to Professional Archaeologists: Question No. 2

Question No. 2: I am new to collecting artifacts. Why do so many of my more experienced artifact collector buddies feel so uncomfortable socializing with professional archaeologists and showing their artifacts to them. Why are they so uncomfortable meeting with professional archaeologists and asking them questions about Tennessee archaeology and archaeology in general?


I can think of several possible reasons.  This is a long and rambling response with lots of elaboration, so take a deep breath and start reading the following list:

(1)  Your buddies may think every professional archaeologist is a policeman who is itching for the tiniest excuse to put them in handcuffs and arrest them. Personally, I have met very few archaeologists who carry a firearm or own handcuffs. Nearly every professional archaeologist I have ever known in my life——including myself——has been and continues to be far more interested in researching and writing about the ancient past than in finding excuses to arrest people. No professional archaeologist has ever said in my presence:

Well, it’s time for us to go arrest old Smitty.

A few Tennessee artifact collectors of the past (50 years ago) seemed to think that the Department of Anthropology at The University of Tennessee (Knoxville) [UTK] contains within it a secret, hidden, underground control room that looks much like the Situation Room at the White House. You know: multiple large television screens, telecommunications equipment, powerful mainframe computers with hundreds of buttons and flashing lights, and data links to optical reconnaissance satellites that allow professional archaeologists to monitor artifact collector activities on the move, at their homes, and out in the fields of Tennessee. In this central operations center, Tennessee archaeologists were supposedly meeting often with each other to review collected data and figure out how to “take down” every artifact collector in Tennessee.

Back in the early 1970s, my old friend H.C. “Buddy” Brehm would tell me about occasional, hyper-paranoid artifact collectors he had met. A few collectors were absolutely convinced that a central operations center somewhat like this existed at UTK, and every artifact collector in the state was under more or less constant surveillance (aerial and otherwise) by all professional archaeologists in Tennessee. I spent eight years in the Department of Anthropology at UTK and still occasionally go over to visit. No such facility exists there now nor has any such facility ever existed there. It is a myth created by intense, self-generated artifact collector paranoia running wild. The notion that such a facility ever existed is pure bullshit, and I have to wonder whether the few people who thought it did were suffering from paranoid schizophrenia.

Fact is:  If you or your buddies have never violated any federal, state, or local cultural resource protection laws, regulations, or ordinances, you have nothing to worry about. If you have violated them and sufficient evidence of it exists, you should worry.  However, it will most likely not be me or any other research archeologist who comes to arrest you. We like our laboratories, libraries, and pounding on our keyboards too much to be occupied with things like that. If you have violated the law, you are most likely to get arrested directly by a designated law enforcement officer of a federal, state, or local law enforcement agency (e.g., FBI, TVA Police, Park Ranger, Lead State Archaeologist, County Sheriff, etc.)  Best advice. Keep your noses clean collector boys and girls——and no one will ever bother you.

(2) In the old days before 1961, nearly all professional archaeologists got along well with the artifact collectors in Tennessee. One of the things collectors most enjoyed doing was showing off their newest artifact finds or artifact show purchases to professional archaeologists. Most of the archaeologists in those days enjoyed looking at those artifacts and discussing them. Some still do. This mutual love affair began to change for the worst in the early 1960s. The affair really soured badly in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s when federal and state cultural resource protection laws and regulations with real biting teeth went into effect. Nowadays, many artifact collectors intentionally avoid contact with professional archaeologists and do not want them to look at artifacts in their collections.

The artifact collectors most fear one simple question that all professional archaeologists ask when looking at an artifact they have never seen before. It goes something like this:

Wow!!! That is a really nice Clovis point. Where did you find it?

That one little question scares the absolute shit out of artifact collectors today. Why? Well, artifact collectors today  think——wrongly——that every archaeologist is a policeman, and the archaeologist is asking them that question as a specific precursor to a near certain arrest. Actually, I will ask that question every time——and I think most other research and academic archaeologists will too——not because we want to arrest a collector——but because we want to understand the specific archaeological context in which the artifact was found.

Most artifact collectors seem to have no understanding of how important archaeological context is to professional archaeologists. The exact, three-dimensional place (horizontally on the landscape and vertically under the ground surface) where an artifact was found is extremely important. It is the essential starting point from which most of our research and understanding of the human past begins. Without it, an artifact is often little more than a nice-looking rock——and many times just about as useless and worthless to archaeological science as a piece of limestone gravel in your driveway. I do not ask that question in hopes of arresting people, and neither do most other research archaeologists. We simply want to know where the artifact was found because it helps us to better understand the artifact and how it fits into local prehistory——contextually speaking. It is the starting point for a really interesting discussion——with you——about your artifact and its importance in the context of the landscape and past human activities on an archaeological site.

If you did not violate federal, state, or local cultural resource protection laws/regulations in the finding or receiving of a particular artifact, no one is going to arrest you or confiscate your artifact. It is that simple. If you are violating such laws, you need to quit it. The only artifact collectors who get arrested are the ones who have allegedly violated the law and sufficient evidence of the violation exists.

Two other reasons artifact collectors are afraid to talk to professional archaeologists these days are as follows:

(A)  Artifact collectors are afraid the professional archaeologist will, and I quote: “jump my claim,” (Old West mining lingo); get them thrown off the site; and start excavating the site themselves so they can, and I quote the artifact collector mindset:

Git all the really good artifacts for themselves.

Unless the archaeological site is unique in some important way, like a Paleo-Indian site with huge mastodon skeletons and Clovis points embedded between their ribs, that is not likely to happen. Professional archaeologists require substantial funding to excavate a site, process artifacts in the laboratory, properly curate them, and write large reports. Such funding is often quite hard to obtain in the large amounts needed. Money does not grow on trees, especially in the department of anthropology at your local university.  So, it is highly unlikely that any professional archaeologist will ever “jump your claim,” as you so often put it, on any average archaeological site. I am not saying it has never happened somewhere between the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean. I am just saying it is highly unlikely to happen with most sites.

In addition, as I explained in my response to Question No. 1 a few days ago, professional archaeologists are not out to “git the really good artifacts for themselves.”  We excavate for information and data——not artifact trophies to hang on our den walls. Information and data. Got it?  So, unless you are doing something clearly illegal, most professional archaeologists would simply like to know where your site is located and what you are finding there just so we can fill out a relatively confidential State Site Survey Form for the site and write down a few syllables about what kind of site it is, where it is, how old it is, and what is being found there—all just for future scientific reference purposes down the road in time and to permanently record the site for Tennessee posterity. Simple. Easy. Painless. No arrest if your activity at the site is legal. So, quit with all the jitters!!!

(B)  Some artifact collectors are afraid a professional archaeologist will call up a private property owner who has given them permission to surface hunt or dig for artifacts on his land. They are afraid the professional archaeologist will ask the landowner to kick them off the property and forbid them from further collecting on the property. Quite frankly, I have never done that because private property owners often do not like third-party strangers meddling in their private business affairs and private agreements they have made with other people. I do not recall any archaeologist ever telling me that he or she has done that. I am not saying it has never happened somewhere in the past on some tract of land between the Atlantic Ocean and Pacific Ocean, but it is not a common practice in my realm of experience.

In the past, I have asked property owners to preserve significant archaeological sites that qualify as historic properties, care for them wisely, and turn down any future requests to surface hunt or dig. No one was actively hunting or digging on those sites at the time. However, if you want to preserve a significant archaeological site for posterity, you cannot have people hunting and digging it to death. That is just basic common sense. I think you can understand that.

Some private property owners do not like professional archaeologists (often officials from a state agency or university) who might try to meddle with how they manage their own land. They get really nervous when the word “state” enters an archaeology discussion. (Been there. Seen that.) I have visited farms where the owner was split-britches happy to greet me and let me walk all over his property all day long to determine if an archaeological site is present. Then I mentioned the words “fill out a State Site Survey Form,” and the word “state” suddenly freaked out the farmer. You know——it goes something like this:

Naw!!!  Naw!!! Naw!!! I don’t want the state involved in anything about my property. There’s no tellin’ what they’d do.  They’d cinch my ass on something, and pretty soon I might not even be able to drive my tractor up there on my own land. Deals off son. Now get outa here.

(3) Some professional archaeologists may come across to artifact collectors as know-it-all academic snobs. The letters M.A., Ph.D., and RPA after a name can be really intimidating to some artifact collectors, especially if the collector never graduated from high school or only has a high school diploma. In addition, so sorry to say, the graduate degrees are sometimes accompanied by a nasal-snarling, aloof, and highly negative attitude that many archaeologists have toward artifact collectors. I can understand why some artifact collectors would feel uncomfortable at the prospect of having to talk with someone who behaves like that. I always try to be friendly and congenial when I talk with people about archaeology. However, like all people, I have occasionally been known to lose control over my emotions and have my own bad actor moments.

All professional archaeologists are not snarling, aloof, and intimidating. Some of us truly are interested in what artifacts you have found (and where), and we enjoy having a good conversation with you. If you are looting an archaeological site, we are not going to help you do that, especially if what you are doing is illegal, but we do not mind a good conversation with you about artifacts and archaeology.

I honestly think artifact collector paranoia about professional archaeologists has become far too inflated in recent times, usually by uninformed and speculative discussions among artifact collectors. I have observed these discussions on-line at artifact collector forums. These discussions and speculations among collectors pump collector fear and anxiety up as big as the moon sitting beside the Earth. That balloon is so very full of speculative hot air, and it is a wonder the whole balloon does not explode right in collector faces. Unless you are indeed doing something illegal, such high anxiety, fear, and paranoia are unfounded.

Nonetheless, I will say this. Some of my professional archaeology colleagues might disagree with it, but I will say it anyway. I have known some——let me underline some (but not all) artifact collectors who hate professional archaeologists with an almost perfect hatred (See Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan). I have also known some professional archaeologists——let me underline some again (but not all)——who hate artifact collectors with an almost perfect hatred. One of those people was an old, dear, very close, but long deceased friend of mine, Dr. Patricia Cridlebaugh. I mentioned the term “artifact collector” to her in a casual archaeology conversation 43 years ago, and her back bowed up like a house cat ready for a slashing match. The associated hiss was silent——but at the same time as audible as a sudden clap of thunder.

I really and truly think these little perfect hater groups (on both sides) are doing an enormous disservice to the American past. Your mutual hatred achieves nothing useful for the American archaeological record, and enormous amounts of important archaeological information and data are being lost as a direct result of your little fits of mutual hate, rage, and  grudge holding. That is unconscionable, and the continuation of it is even more unconscionable. Both sides should be ashamed of themselves. Seventy-five years from now, I can almost guarantee you the Society for American Archaeology (SAA) is going to look back to our present time with total disgust at all of the archaeological information and data that were needlessly lost between A.D. 1960 and 2093 because you toddler brats (on both sides) were too busy hating each other to realize how much was being lost forever——when you could have taken action to record at least some of the information and data that were briefly available to you through a little congenial talk with your adversaries.

Do you seriously want the professional archaeologists and avocational archaeologists of the next century writing about you as the George Wallaces and Lester Maddoxes of 20th and 21st century American archaeology and amateur archaeology? I believe there is a very real risk of that actually happening to you one day. You hate mongers on both sides need to cool the highly flammable rhetoric and start talking to each other in a friendly and civil manner.

You can start by contacting Dr. Bonnie Pitblado in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Oklahoma and by taking a close, mind-wide-open look at her trailblazing work for the SAA on a pathway to achieving civility and mutual cooperation between professional archaeologists and responsible artifact collectors——which will eventually stop many of these terrible losses of archaeological information and data well before 2093.

(4) I have already mentioned the giant, moon-like balloon of fear that many artifact collectors create in discussions among themselves. Once again, I have seen it on-line. You torture yourselves about not thoroughly understanding the cultural resource protection laws and regulations. You work yourselves into a speculative tizzy and wring your hands with anxiety——because you heard about some artifact collector named Bubba who was “taken down” by the FBI in Georgia, Florida, or Indiana. You heard that poor old Bubba “t’warnt’t a doin’ anythin’ wrong”——and nobody could ever figure out what poor old Bubba did and how he could have been arrested like that. Worry!  Worry!  Worry!  Some of you even try to hide knowledge of your artifact collections from the general public. From the tense, terse personal conversations I have had with some of you, it looks as if you are afraid of your own shadows. A huge balloon of fear has engulfed you.

I believe 90 to 100 percent of that fear is unfounded, especially if you are not engaged in any illegal activities. However, I would like to say this. The clique of American archaeologists who hate artifact collectors with a perfect hatred is very proud of the fearful tizzies you have worked yourselves into. They like to see it! They love it! They want that fear to eat you alive——even if you are 100 percent legal. They need that self-generated balloon of fear inside you. Why? They hope your level of self-generated anxiety will become so highly intense that your central nervous system will no longer be able to bear the strain——and you will quit collecting artifacts just to get relief from all the pain——and in turn——quit destroying archaeological sites to find artifacts.

Most professional archaeologists really do believe that when you quit collecting——the destruction of archaeological sites by artifact dealer minions and artifact collectors will soon end. Moreover, I think most professional archaeologists (particularly the perfect haters) have convinced themselves (right or wrong) that nearly all American artifact collectors are involved to one degree or another in some form of illegal activity with archaeological sites and/or artifacts. I do not fully share their belief in that untested blanket assumption because I have known numerous legal artifact collectors. Unfortunately, I have also known about alleged illegal artifact collectors——mostly as hearsay through the third party grapevine of gossip.

(5)  I do not know how other professional archaeologists feel about it, but one thing some artifact collectors do just drives me crazy. Once upon a time, I had a 1.5-hour discussion with an artifact collector I had only just met on the telephone. It was a calm and meaningful discussion on my end of the line. We were just having a normal conversation about artifacts and archaeology. Then, every 20 minutes or so, throughout our conversation, the artifact collector would suddenly pause and frantically state a chorus just like this one:

I swear man!!!  You gotta believe me!!! I ain’t done nothin’ wrong!!!  I ain’t done nothin’ wrong man!!! I swear it!!! You believe me don’t you???  I ain’t done nothin’ wrong!!! I ain’t done nothin’ wrong!!!  You gotta believe me man!!!  You just gotta!!! I ain’t done nothin’ wrong!!!  I swear.  I ain’t done nothin’ wrong!!!

In that conversation, I never said or implied that this artifact collector had done anything wrong. This chorus was all voluntary, and it wore me out. Let me see. Every 20 minutes or so for 1.5 hours. That works out to what——5.5 repeated choruses? Yep. This collector appeared to think I was some sort of police officer. Let’s see? Archaeologist = police officer (Really?); therefore, police officer = archaeologist. A man gets on a train in Los Angeles and another man gets on a train in Chicago…if A is equal to B and B is equal to C…then A is…  Well, whatever!

Listening to those paranoid choruses was really annoying. This collector was obviously afraid that I was both an archaeologist and a police officer. In reality, I was just interested in some new archaeological information and enjoying the conversation about artifacts and archaeology. I do not want anyone in Tennessee to think that I have a dual function as both a professional archaeologist and a police officer. If I had wanted to be a police officer, I would have gone to the Knoxville Police Academy for an education instead of the UTK Department of Anthropology.

Yes, if I were at a TVA Lake Access for personal recreational purposes, and I happened to spot two guys digging a hole to find artifacts, I would call Erin Pritchard at TVA and report it. However, I never wanted to be a policeman, and I do not want people to think of me as a policeman now. If they do, everything just goes totally weird inside 10 minutes in any conversation about archaeology, and a meaningful artifact or archaeology discussion quickly goes to Hell in a hand basket of fear and loathing.

Look. I am a very shy and introverted person by both nature and nurture——a male Emily Dickinson type if there ever was one. You might not think that from reading my writings here on the blog, but it is true. I tend to avoid people in general and like to keep my nose over my keyboard or inside a good nonfiction book. I would like to keep it that way for the small handful of years I have left on this Earth. So, if you are an artifact collector——and you feel uneasy around professional archaeologists——and maybe feel the need to voice repeated choruses of frantic fear or confess something illegal you might have done in the past with an archaeological site or artifacts, I would rather not hear about it. Go find a Roman Catholic priest somewhere. I feel sure he would be more than happy to hear any frantic choruses of fear, confessions, or concerns you might have.

This question has been answered to the best of my ability. If you have any further questions or comments about my answer, you may make a comment here or send me an e-mail message. And yes, just in case you were wondering, the doctors and the men in white suits let me go out on the asylum grounds to exercise for at least one hour each day (LOL).