Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Pothunters and Governor Brewer

Pothunters are people who pillage archeological sites for artifacts that they add to their personal collection or sell for profit. They are generally regarded as looters and vandals. Unless they collect on private land they own, their activity is illegal. Pot hunting on public land, state of federal, is illegal and frequently prosecuted.

Archeologists despise pothunters because they destroy contextual information. Artifacts that are removed from an archeological site without detailed study and documentation are useless except as souvenirs or collectables. Any scientific information that might have been gained by studying the artifact in the context in which it was found is forever lost. Disturbing the site in a haphazard way as they look for valuables or collectables, they also compromise the context of less valuable artifacts left behind. An item moved to a different archeological layer can never be properly interpreted. The opportunity to gather scientific information about an ancient civilization is forever lost.

Even the collectible value of the artifacts may be compromised. They may be traded or sold to people not having the knowledge or interest to properly preserve them.

Governor Brewer vandalized the Arizona Mining and Mineral Museum in much the same way that pothunters vandalize archeological sites. In this case, the items (rock mineral specimens) had already been carefully collected and documented. The Governor, either unwilling or incapable of understanding the mineral museum, ripped artifacts out of context.

The Governors Arizona Centennial Museum bill transferred the mineral collection to the Arizona Historical Society. However, neither the Governor nor the AHS was interested in preserving the items in context with supporting documentation. The documents remain in the possession of the Arizona Department of Miners and Mineral Resources. They have been moved to two different locations where there security is compromised. Because all of the ADMMR rent money was transferred to the AHS along with the mineral collection, the ADMMR has no viable budget and will probably cease to exist. The future security of the documents is very much in question.

Furthermore, the AHS is not qualified to preserve the mineral collection. Some are not chemically stable, and many are very fragile. The collection is subject to serious damage as it is handled and stored by untrained personnel.

The Governor has behaved exactly like a pothunter, and deserves the disrespect normally directed toward pothunters.

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