Friday, February 25, 2011


Wupatki National Monument
Wupatki National Monument, Arizona (my own photo)

I'm racing through my back-pile of books to read although I sheepishly have to admit that the local Border's is closing and I bought a pile of new books at 60% off. It seems unlikely that I'll ever clear out a bookshelf.
My next book to review is Stealing History: Tomb Raiders, Smugglers, and the Looting of the Ancient World, by Roger Atwood. I had a great time reading this one. It is a non-fiction work about the illicit trade in antiquities, centered largely on Peru. It reads like a book on Global Warming--message, the world is going to hell in a handbasket and no one can do anything to stop it.

Ancient Graffiti
Petroglyphs, Petrified Forest National Park

It is also reminiscent of the effort to protect wildlife in poor countries. How can you stop the poachers (in this case looters) from taking items they can sell for a profit when the crime is supported by the need of poor people to eat and by the desires of rich people for more trophies for their collections? In Peru, ancient tombs are being raided daily by local people, but the trade is fueled by the wealthy buyers (including museums)in developed countries.
The author interviews people at all sides of the antiquities industry from the looters themselves, to private collectors, archaeologists and law enforcement people. His message is that the world has to collectively take action to prevent the destruction and theft of local treasures.
I can understand the urge to dig for buried treasure and then to hoard and acquire these treasures. I'm not confessing to any misdeeds, mind you, but I've always wanted a chance to participate in an archaeological dig. Not that I ever considered a career in archaeology but maybe after my younger son leaves home, I'll sign up to volunteer to sift sand in some exotic place. I'd love to find a few pot shards or ancient bones and I promise not to keep any for myself!
Back to the book--it's great. Read it.


ArtPropelled said...

I've always wanted to participate in an archaeological dig too! Plenty of food for thought in this post. We've all been talking about the looting of treasures in Egypt during the last month. Makes my blood run cold.

Crafty Green Poet said...

I did an archeological dig once, it was in the middle of summer in a very hot and dry part of Poland and we found nothing until the last day when we started to uncover a fireplace. I'm glad I did it, but it would have been nice to have found a few trinkets as well!

I have too many books too!

JL said...

I've read it. It's fascinating if somewhat depressing. On the other hand, it's obvious human history is a cycle of building and destruction, where cultures emerge and disappear for various reasons, most of which are war-related.

On the plus side, at least in South America, it's led to a counterfeit undustry that's led the local people to rediscover lost techniques, and make honest recreations of antiquities.

So that's something.