The Mother of Indiana JonesAugust 24, 2000
(A collector strikes back) This article appeared in Anthropology News, a monthly newspaper that is mailed to 4,800 subscribers. It was written in response to an article written by Dr. Joe Watkins “Salvaging our Ethics.” (Anthropology News 41:3:26-27) It also appeared in Ohio Archaeologist, Summer, 2000.
The mass media in this country well know the rules. When an archaeological discovery is made, all but the most compelling stories go to the bottom of the page, making room for what many Americans love most, the sight of an ancient object that gives an exciting hint about their past. How many times have the stories of Mesa Verde and Spiro Mound been told? We always thirst for more.
For many decades our museums have purchased prehistoric artifacts or had them donated by those with the far vision to know that otherwise our public displays would stand in need. Good examples abound: the Field Museum in Chicago, which houses the original private collection of Marshall Field, and the wonderful collection of pre-Columbian gold and jade objects that was purchased by Ray Diekemper and given to the Texas Tech Museum over the objections of the curator.
Was the Chicago Art Institute correct in purchasing the most significant Mimbres cave objects ever discovered, a ritual cache of brilliantly colored and feathered snake and mountain lion fetishes and human effigies? Of course they were! The Society of American Archaeology (SAA) hates to see commercial traffic in archaeological material, yet one must ask which is more important - the education of the public or the perceived ethics of the SAA?
Professional archaeological societies have long looked for easy marks to blame for the escalating interest in collecting artifacts, and their editorials have accused collectors for many of the problems found in their own science. United thinking in the collecting community (collectors outnumber archaeologists by an estimated 250 to one) is that this emphasis is inappropriate. Shadowy excuses mask what everyone knows to be true: it is the written reports and photographs of both artifacts in situ and museum displays that hone the tools of those who would vandalize archaeological sites looking for what they have seen in print or on exhibit.
The premise is that those looted objects are sold to collectors, which promotes further looting. To a degree that is true, albeit a tertiary reason. Nevertheless, it is our museums that make these items desirable. At arrowhead shows across the country, the sale of books about prehistoric artifacts is second in total sales, surpassed only by that of stone tools. While no collector condones illegal excavations, they all know that logic defies the tenet that prehistoric artifacts should not be privately collected. If museums routinely purchase these items, is it unethical for individuals to do the same? I don’t think so.
Over 1400 people attended the important “Clovis and Beyond” conference held last October (1999) in Santa Fe. The 62 speakers, selected for being the best in their fields, included two members of the National Academy of Science (NAS), the present President and three past presidents of the SAA, and the heads of anthropology departments in universities and museums across the Americas. When the conference was over, Dr. Joe Watkins, who was also a speaker and Chair of the American Anthropological Association Ethics Committee and member of the SAA Ethics Committee, wrote an editorial in the Anthropology News (March 2000) titled, “Salvaging Our Ethics.” He questioned whether he should have attended the conference at all because it had been put on by me, a collector and avocational archaeologist. He said I had been “accused” of “mining artifacts” in a pre-contact pueblo that I own. For Dr. Watkins, mining artifacts refers to the excavation of an archaeological site by someone without a Ph.D. in archaeology. He asked the question. “How did the collector get involved in the “Clovis and Beyond” conference in the first place?” a question that speaks volumes about where the SAA seems to be headed.
Since he called me by name, I feel compelled to examine the question. In the organization of the conference, I represented the Museum of New Mexico, Laboratory of Anthropology. Other co-sponsors were the Smithsonian Institution and the Center for the Study of the First Americans at Oregon State University. Maybe Dr. Watkins’ question should be asked a little differently: “Why did the collector feel inclined to originate and organize the meeting?” Where were all of the archaeologists, and why did none of them see the need and step forward?” The last such conference, from which the term “Clovis point” emerged, was held in Santa Fe in 1941. In the ensuing years, giant steps have been made in our knowledge of the peopling of the Americas, knowledge that everyone agreed needed to be presented and discussed. Dr. Watkins seemed to be saying, “We don’t have time to do it, and I don’t want you to either”. I am reminded of the Rolls Royce that pulled up to the Ritz Plaza Hotel, and no one got out.
Because Dr Watkins listed Indiana University as his academic affiliation for the conference, I thought it would be interesting to look at that school’s archaeological record. Ironically, the archaeology and anthropology departments at Indiana University would not exist were it not for the long-term vision and direct financial support of a single individual, an artifact collector and amateur archaeologist Eli Lilly (Griffin, 1971).
There was neither an archaeology program nor an anthropology department at any of the colleges or universities in the state of Indiana until Lilly became interested in collecting artifacts (Griffin, 1971), It is important to emphasize that the same is true of many other states as well. While Lilly insisted on anonymity throughout his life, it is now useful to refer to him by name so the reader can understand the exact nature of his contributions and the role he played in the development of American archaeology, a particularly important point because his contributions have been omitted from the formal “History of American Archaeology” (Willey and Sabloff, (1974,1980).
In the summer of 1930, when Lilly visited the home of J.P. Dolan, a lawyer and artifact collector in Syracuse, Indiana, he was struck by the quality of workmanship of the artifacts that Dolan displayed in his “Indian cabinet” (Griffin, 1971). The sight of Dolan’s collection stimulated Lilly’s innate curiosity and a never-ending passion for artifacts and “digging” archaeology. With the help of Thomas Hendricks, an Indianapolis buyer of antiquities, Lilly began to acquire a personal collection from both various other collectors and his own excavations. He quickly amassed one of the most important collections in the United States. This activity brought him into close association with numerous artifact dealers, fellow collectors, and amateur archaeologists, including Glenn A. Black.
In 1931, when Black led Lilly on a field trip to Angel Mounds (the largest known Mississippian site in Indiana), Lilly was both impressed with the vastness of the village and cemetery and was struck by Black’s self-taught knowledge and enthusiasm. Although Black never attended college, like Lilly he was well read and had been collecting artifacts for many years. Lilly realized that the only way archaeology was going to advance would be if he funded a full-time person such as Glenn Black to devote all of his efforts to archaeology. Lilly initiated efforts to acquire the title to Angel Mounds. After federal, state, and local governmental sources failed to acquire the site, Eli Lilly provided the funds to purchase it. Black moved into a house on the site and, with funding from Lilly, devoted the rest of his life to excavating it.
Dr. Watkins’ position is particularly curious in the light of the fact that he is currently seeking the directorship of the Glenn A. Black Laboratory of Archaeology at the University of Indiana, a position endowed by a collector and untrained excavator.
The program at Indiana University began when Lilly endowed a fellowship in anthropology in 1932. Black began teaching the archaeology course in 1944, and with many generous donations, a formal department of anthropology was created in 1947. Lilly also funded archaeology laboratories at the University of Chicago and Ohio State University and endowed a fellowship at the University of Michigan. Its first recipient was James B. Griffin, the “dean” of American archaeology. Lilly provided full-time support for Griffin between 1932 and 1941, and continued to fund his research efforts thereafter. It is interesting to note that the lifelong support from this private collector was completely ignored in the Midcontinental Journal of Archaeology’s 1997 “Tribute to James B. Griffin.” Griffin would have been the first to admit that he would not have had a career without the support of Eli Lilly, who also funded 11 presidents of the SAA: A.V. Kidder (1937-1939), Will C. Mckern (1940 -1941), Glenn A. Black (1941-1942), Carl E. Guthe (1945 -1946), Frank H.H. Roberts, Jr. (1950 -1951), James B. Griffin (1951-1952), William A. Ritchie (1956 -1957), George I. Quimby (1957-1958), James A. Ford (1963 -1964), Albert C. Spalding (1964 -1965), and Richard “Scotty” MacNeish (1971-1972). Dr. Watkins seems to be saying that these distinguished archaeologists were unethical for associating with and accepting the money and leadership services of a collector - that Eli Lilly’s money was tainted.
Scotty MacNeish, a participant in the “Clovis and Beyond” conference and the most recent recipient of the SAA’s Fryxell Award, wrote in a letter to James B. Griffin on December 14, 1970, “Mr. Lilly’s interest in archaeology, particularly in the Midwest, and continued support of it were responsible for many, if not most of the advances that were made in that region from the twenties to the seventies. This was not just the direct donating of funds for field excavations and publications, but it was, more importantly, the support and encouragement he gave to so many students and scholars in the field of archaeology” (Griffin 1971).
Midwestern archaeology has never recovered from the loss of Eli Lilly. Since his death, academic training and employment opportunities in Midwestern archaeology have become limited (Schott, 2000). Lilly provided funding to students and scholars for the scientific study of pottery, stone and copper sources used in the manufacture of artifacts, geophysics, absolute dating, artifact classification, and linguistics. He also sponsored conferences and excavations, and was the underwriter of numerous publications. Many of these publications, including Prehistoric Antiquities of Indiana, featured illustrations of artifacts from his personal collection, some of which he had excavated himself.
The argument might be made: that was then, this is now. In other words, the days of Eli Lilly are ancient history. But are they?
Where is the money for archaeology coming from today? In the past decade a number of artifact collectors have supported the positions and research efforts of many contemporary archaeologists including Chris Hill, Robson Bonnichsen, David Meltzer (a mentor of Joe Watkins), Don Fowler, C. Vance Haynes, and George Frison, to name a few. A Colorado collector has donated more than four million dollars for archaeological research to institutions including the University of Wyoming, The George Frison Institute, the Museum of the Rockies, Montana State University, Oregon State University, The Center for the Study of the First Americans, the University of Nevada, and Joe Watkins’ alma mater, Southern Methodist University.
At the same time, grants from the National Science Foundation for applied research in anthropology have dwindled almost 78% from $2,630,000 in 1973 to $583,000 in 1997 (National Science Foundation/SRS, Survey of Federal Funds for Research and Development). Furthermore, these figures do not reflect either the decreasing value of the dollar since 1973 or the fact that most of that money goes for research in anthropology, not archaeology. If, as Dr. Watkins implies, it is unethical to receive support from or co-mingle with artifact collectors, what is left? Maybe the only completely “ethical” refuge is government archaeology and Cultural Resource Management (CRM). But is it?
Each year, state and federal governments spend millions of taxpayers dollars to survey, excavate, protect, preserve, conserve, and curate the archaeology of the United States. What does the average American citizen get for his money? Most of the results appear as unpublished contract reports written in an oppressive technical jargon that the public cannot decipher. To make matters worse, our nation’s museums are becoming filled with literally hundreds of tons of dirt, fire-cracked rock, bones and broken pottery bits from the CRM and government archaeology.
In an investigative report conducted by the United States Army Corps of Engineers (Trimble and Meyers 1991), they found that the status of most physical facilities used to store artifacts and archaeological records from government-funded excavations did not conform to the minimum federal standards for archaeological curation. Many artifacts and paper records were found in substandard facilities scattered on floors, while elsewhere they appeared in cardboard boxes in cluttered storage areas subject to unauthorized entry, leaky roofs, and lacking either fire suppression systems or pest control programs.
Each year millions of taxpayer dollars are spent to recover artifacts and produce records that are later destroyed or damaged because archaeologists improperly pack, over pack, stack boxes without lids, or place them in areas with excessive levels of humidity, water, or active rodent populations. In these situations, provenience labels and brown, craft paper field bags rapidly deteriorate. In many cases, artifacts and site records not only go unprotected, but also remain uncataloged for decades. The Army Corps of Engineers (Trimble and Meyers 1991) found that the substandard record management at government-funded institutions resulted in the loss of information that impaired the usefulness of artifact collections acquired from CRM.
I have often wondered why a professional archaeologist who excavates (the site is necessarily destroyed in the process) is viewed with respect while an avocational archaeologist is accused of mining for artifacts. It has been estimated that between 60 and 75 percent of work completed in the field by professional archaeologists is not reported. A comprehensive search for statistics on this problem has revealed nothing. Everyone knows the majority of field work goes unpublished but no one wants to admit it. The archaeological community has really buried that one. And worse, many times the field notes are closely guarded secrets, lest someone else should use the information.
“Too often archaeologists have failed to match the scale of their efforts in the field with the scale of their publication effort. Archaeology is justified only if the information is later made available to the public” (Sharer and Ashmore 1993:156). “Publication is the ultimate responsibility of all archaeologists and, like all other scientists, their results must be made available to public audiences. This obligation lies at the very heart of professional archaeological responsibility.” (Sharer and Ashmore 1993:599). “Unfortunately, communication to the public is the most neglected aspect of professional archaeology” (Sharer and Ashmore 1993:599). However, in many cases the work completed in the field by avocational archaeologists is reported in local archaeology society journals. So it is legitimate to ask which is worse, a professional who excavates correctly and fails to report the findings, or an amateur whose techniques are less than perfect but reports on his work?
While everyone is interested in historic preservation, it would appear that some have wandered around the bend. Jon L. Gibson and Joe Sanders, both archaeologists from Louisiana, wrote in the SAA bulletin (vol. 11, no. 5), “We suggest that just because sites happen to be on private property should not make them privately owned. We also maintain that archaeologists must challenge one of American’s most precious rights - the right to do as you please to your own land - if we are going to have any chance of preserving our diminishing heritage.”
As if that were not embarrassing enough, they went on, “First, we must press for legislation that places an archaeological lien on private property with significant archaeological sites. Second, archaeologists must be the ones to choose which sites are to be protected. We can not entrust this selection to a governmental board or legislated process, which would give land owners the final word on whether a site will be protected.” Now I think I remember what started the French Revolution!
But that’s not all: “Archaeologists must be more than just stewards of the past. They must serve as the public conscience. They must act on society’s behalf even when society is insensitive or objects.” EVEN IF SOCIETY OBJECTS? Well, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. In my faxed response (which was published in a subsequent SAA Bulletin), I pointed out that most Americans would probably agree that private property rights guaranteed under the Constitution related to illegal search and seizure are more important than archaeology and historic preservation combined.
Where would one suspect that museums get the artifacts that are being displayed? Who are the major supporters and contributors to those institutions: professional archaeologists, the United States Government, or the private collectors? Why is it that collectors are discredited by archaeologists for purchasing artifacts, but celebrated when their collections are donated to an institution? Does that transformation not seem strange and hypocritical?
So the wedge of discontent is driven ever deeper between archaeologists and the collecting community by ill-thought-out or unfortunate comments published in private-subscription journals. Both Dr. Watkins (a Native American and political archaeologist) who speaks officially for the SAA and publicly preaches the rhetoric of cooperation with all groups, and two Louisiana rogue revolutionaries, who would commandeer the law because they think our elected officials cannot be trusted to do the right thing, are defining new and radical directions.
While most archaeologists understand that cooperation among all parties is beneficial and productive, there are those who are loud and overly zealous. Extremists seem to be floating to the surface everywhere, collectively revealing the soft underbelly of archaeology. An item that appeared in “The American Committee for Preservation of Archaeological Collections” newsletter, (March 2000), amply illustrates the trend: “It seems a planned and approved exhibit of Clovis projectile points, that was to coincide with the Santa Fe conference last October and be a part of it, was cancelled at the Museum of Fine Arts. A local archaeologist apparently complained that Clovis material should not be exhibited in an art museum, and he persuaded a Native American to claim that Clovis points are sacred and should not be displayed at all. The museum director (Stuart Ashman) folded under the pressure and the exhibit did not take place. (Ed. Note: Clovis points certainly ARE works of art and would make a splendid exhibit in any art museum.”) In canceling the show (titled “Points of View”) meetings were held behind closed doors, and the names of the dissidents remain closely guarded secrets. Ironically, the same museum currently has an exhibition that features “Clovis” points recently knapped by a pueblo Indian.
As another example of extremism, an archaeologist from the University of New Mexico said he would resign from the SAA because its president was a speaker at the “Clovis and Beyond” conference. He evidently objected to privately owned Clovis materials being displayed at the conference along side those held in the public trust, including collections from the Peabody Museum, The Smithsonian Institution, The Denver Natural History Museum, the University of Texas, and many others.
Public money for archaeological research is rapidly becoming an endangered species, necessitating an increased dependence on private funding, much of which comes either directly from collectors or is heavily influenced by them. There are things professional archaeologists can do to help themselves. Here is some advice and a few observations from Indiana Jones to the SAA
1. I am born of you and am nourished by your lectures, your reports, and your beautiful museum displays. Thank you for giving me life.
2. Leave the jargon at home. Your future depends on increased public interest, and that’s where your future funding will originate. If 14-year-old students don’t understand your report, you’re doing it wrong. And incidentally, color in books is OK.
3. Stop whining about what amateurs are doing. You have bigger problems at home, like unreported field work, for starters.
4. Collectors are not going away, and you’re heavily outnumbered. Get used to it and learn from them.
5. Don’t get carried away with your importance. Private property rights come first, now and always.
6. If it’s a Canis Latrans bone, give us a break; say it’s part of a coyote.
7. Your peers already know you’re smart, so write for the rest of us sometime. We’ll buy your book and read it; they probably won’t
8. Lighten up. It’s not as if dreaded diseases are being cured or famines being prevented by archaeology. You should be enjoying it more.
Barker, Alex W. 2000 Ethics, E-Commerce, and the Future of the Past. Society for American Archaeology Bulletin 18:1:15.
Bonnichsen, Robson, Michele Punke, Charmay Allred, Kenneth B. Tankersley, Forrest Fenn, and Mark Mullins 1999 Clovis and Beyond: A Peopling of the Americas Conference, Abstracts, Collections, and Exhibits, Santa Fe.
Brose David S., William Green, and Mark Seeman 1997 Tribute to James B. Griffin (1905-1997) Midcontinental Journal of Archaeology 22:2:125-158.
Clovis and Beyond conference WebPages
Fenn, Forrest 1994 Letters to the Editor. Society for American Archaeology Bulletin 12:2:3.
Fenn, Forrest Personal communication with the archaeologist who received the call.
Frison, George C. 2000 Progress and Challenges. Scientific American Discovering Archaeology, January/February, pp. 40-42.
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Griffin, James B. 1971 A Commentary on an Unusual Research Program in American Anthropology, in Dedication of the Glenn A. Black Laboratory of Archaeology. Indiana University Press, Bloomington.
Leach, Jeff D. 1999 Clovis and Beyond. Discovering Archaeology, September/October, p. 28.
Lilly, Eli 1937 Prehistoric Antiquities of Indiana. Indiana Historical Society, Indianapolis.
Museum of New Mexico WebPages.
National Science Foundation/SRS 1999 Survey of Federal Funds for Research and Development.
Ray, Louis L. 1941 Symposium on Folsom-Yuma Problems. 48:10:234-235.
Sharer, Robert S., and Wendy Ashmore 1993 Archaeology: Discovering Our Past, Mayfield Publishing, Mountain View.
Shott, Michael J. 2000 Geographic Emphasis In American Archaeological Practice. Society for American Archaeology 18:2:22-27.
Society for American Archaeology 2000 Past Presidents of SAA. Program of the 65th Annual Meeting, p.121.
Trimble, Michael K., and Thomas B. Meyers 1991 Saving the Past From the Future: Archaeological Curation in the St. Louis District. US Army Corps of Engineers, St. Louis District.
Watkins, Joe 2000 Salvaging Our Ethics. Anthropology News 41:3:26-27.
Watkins, Joe, K. Anne Pyburn, and Pam Cressey 2000 Community Relations: What the Practicing Archaeologist Needs to Know to Work Effectively with Local and/or Descendant Communities, in Teaching Archaeology in the Twenty-First Century, edited by Susan J. Bender and George S. Smith, Society for American Archaeology, Washington DC.
Willey, Gordon R., and Jeremy A. Sabloff 1974 A History of American Archaeology, First Edition, Thames and Hudson Ltd., London.
After retiring from the Air Force in 1970, I built an art gallery in Santa Fe that my wife and I ran for seventeen years. Since then, my energies have been directed toward excavation of a large Indian pueblo and writing books about art and exploration. I hope you enjoy my blog!