Thursday, March 25, 2010

Looters

I was watching a documentary about ancient Egypt the other night (I love those!) and started thinking about the monuments that have been looted over the years.  King Tut's tomb is considered one of archaeology's greatest  finds because it was found  intact with all its treasures.  Most tombs had already been looted sometime in the past.

One question is, are modern archaeologists really any different than looters from the past?  One could argue that archaeologists are trying to preserve the finds and they typically don't keep what they find for themselves but put it in museums or universities.  But is that a valid justification or just an excuse to loot?

I think the answer to question lies within a gray area.  On one hand, considering many genuine Egyptian obelisks and artifacts are kept in cities outside of Egypt, the removal of Egyptian artifacts by archaeologists does seem like looting.  Additionally, the Egyptians who built the monuments probably were not expecting their art and precious objects to be sitting in museums outside of Egypt some day.

On the other hand though, the archaeological justifications for removing the objects are typically done with good intentions.  By removing artifacts and putting them in museums, archaeologists not only get a chance to learn about the people who live there but they can better preserve the artifacts in a museum setting.  I visited England several years ago, and one of the highlights of my trip was visiting the British Museum, where I saw ancient Egyptian artifacts as well as artifacts from many other locations and periods of history.  I was glad to be able to see such things while I was there.  So, from a certain point of view, it may be a type of looting, but I'm not going to complain about it too much.

Another question I wonder about is where did all the other loot go?  Many of the tombs modern archaeologists have found were already looted...so who looted them and what did they do with the loot?  Has it been passed down all these years and kept hidden from the public?  Or was the loot just melted down and made into something else?  Or is a combination of the two?

 Just another one of Egypt's mysteries, I suppose.

3 comments:

  1. Great post, Jeff. & yeah, just where DID all this loot go?

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  2. You know, that's a really good observation. I was an archaeology major for a time in college and switched. It happened when I was considering how much I was itching to go to Egypt some day and dig around in the pyramids. Then, it occurred to me how wrong that was. It bothered me to think that, although I may not believe in what they believed in, they had a religion and their burial places were sacred and arranged a certain way for insurance to make it into the afterlife. No matter how ridiculous religious customs and beliefs may seem to me, I do think that when someone believes something it has all the power in the world to them. I wouldn't mess with that. I would want someone to respect my beliefs too. So, I think it would have been better to keep them sealed up and protected and as a compromise, measure and photograph the contents if they must, but don't parade their sacred offerings around creation. The dead can hardly defend themselves or their beliefs.

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  3. I also wonder just how old something needs to be before it is classified as an artifact. You know, archaeologists wouldn't go dig up graves from the colonial period of America, but they will go excavate tombs from ancient Egypt. So how old is old enough to excavate and put into a museum? There doesn't seem to be a standard, as far as I can tell. It just seems to vary depending on the circumstances. I guess they have to factor in not just how old a site is but who can claim ownership of the land, whether or not the land owner will allow a site to be excavated, and how recent the memory is of who lived at the site or what occurred at the site.

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