Posted by: Rosanna Post Reply
Karlis' picture reminded me of the 30 foot high mounds of debris with millions of pottery shards that were formed when many of the sites in Egypt were excavated. The small tour groups I was with spent hours at the sites, and several of us would wander in the mounds and root around for interesting shards. Occasionally an intact handle, or a piece with writing, or even intact faience glaze would be found. The oldest debris was on the top of the piles, having been dug out last. Naturally all these "discards" were illegal to take out of Egypt. But, the Egyptologist who accompanied the tours would jokingly refer to Egypt as the "land of a billion pottery pieces".
But to follow on to Scott's idea - I think the Egyptians could make a pretty penny if they mounted shards on small plaques and sold them to tourists. And absolutely nothing of historical value would be lost - in case something significant would be found, the pieces released for sale could be reviewed by an archaeologist.
In a much more recent example, I purchased a small plaque with a piece of the Berlin Wall when I was in Berlin shortly after it was mostly torn down. I also picked up a few pieces of debris while I was there, watching various entrepreneurs hack into the remaining structure with chisels. A sufficient portion of the wall was preserved for posterity, so did I contribute to the looting of an historic site?
Back to beads, though- I just can't see how buying an Islamic era bead that was found in the debris washed down from an ancient burial site in West Africa and collected by a local, then sold to a buyer in a souk, is a problem. Yes the exact provenance has been lost but can these poor countries afford to preserve large areas of their country as "no dig" zones? Here in the US we still have ongoing issues with letting our own Native Americans control their ancestral sites, which theoretically should not be an issue of finances, but it is. Expecting the less developed world to do "better" is really expecting a lot!
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