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All of us are concerned about the destruction of archeological sites. All a person has to do is look at a highway map. Cities are continuing to grow in size, miles of roads are added each year, and lakes are where once there were rivers, trees, grass, and farmland. Too many times the archeological knowledge contained in these destroyed sites was not salvaged.
The knowledge that can be gained from the proper excavation of a prehistoric Native American village, for example, is the prime reason for the excavation. It is not just to get artifacts to fill some museum. Whenever we excavate a site, we are destroying that site. This is why careful observations must be made and careful records must be kept at every step. Only with proper training and direction from an archeologist should an amateur attempt to excavate a site.
There are both collectors and others who knowingly and unknowingly have destroyed a great deal of our prehistoric record. This is especially true of sites located in caves and rock shelters where random digging has and does take place. We, the public, lose valuable scientific information merely for private gain.
Of less guilt but still important, perhaps you are involved in this destruction. Maybe you say, “How can this be? I have always reported all the sites I found. I never dig for artifacts and only hunt on the surface of the site.” Nevertheless, if artifacts are not catalogued in your collection and material from many sites is mixed up together, you are destroying relationships.
Properly recorded material will indicate the location of a site and may tell the approximate age and cultural affiliation of the site. If this information is not recorded, it usually will be lost when the collector dies. Also, there is a great personal reward in cataloguing your artifacts. As an added bonus, you may be able to match up some of the broken pieces to form whole artifacts.
As amateur archeologists you should think seriously about giving your artifacts to an educational institution or museum before or when you die. After all, when a person picks up artifacts that have been preserved untouched for hundreds and/or thousands of years, this means that you now have the responsibility of taking care of them and directing how they are to be cared for in the future.
Another way an amateur can be of help is to simply become better informed about archeology. Read books and articles about archeology, visit museums, join archeological societies, and help out on archeological excavations. The better informed you are the better able you are to generate in others an interest in their stewardship of the past.
Work closely with professional archeologists and share your collections with them. You will be surprised at their knowledge and willingness to help you understand what you have collected. Of particular importance are those collections which contain artifacts found on only one site. The professional archeologist simply does not have the time to make extensive surface collections from the many different sites in an area and he/she may not be in an area at the time of “best collecting” for many of the sites. A good collection may represent a great many hours of collecting. Most collectors would be willing to spend the time with an archeologist to go over their collections.
Finally, we should all be aware of what is going on around us and when we find a site is going to be destroyed, we should make sure the proper people know about it and do our best to see that scientific knowledge is gained about the site before it is destroyed. Archeology is important and perhaps some of the knowledge we gain from past cultures may help keep modern man from making some of the same mistakes.