The CTA has established a special anti-looting committee to tackle issues, problems and solutions to the destruction of archaeological resources. This is an outgrowth of an ad hoc committee that was formed to create an anti-looting poster that was developed for distribution. After the poster was created the committee was disbanded. The new special committee was then reestablished in 2011 with Jeff Hanson as Chair.
It is important for us as archaeologists interested in site protection to reach out to local government, law enforcement, and landowners to increase awareness about looting and vandalism (it’s practice and the laws), and to make ourselves available to lend our skills and expertise in looting cases if asked, and to make sound field damage assessments and provide ideas and guidance for protecting sites. A place to start for the CTA Anti-looting Committee might be to sponsor and hold workshops for Texas Archaeological Society members and the interested public on how to conduct field damage assessments. Of course, this all presumes that looting is an ongoing problem in Texas.
One thing that is needed is to educate university departments (of all places) on the seriousness of looting, and the need to incorporate courses on law enforcement archaeology in their undergraduate and graduate curriculum. People who work at the federal level are pretty good at this, since federal archaeologists are usually well trained and know federal, and sometimes state laws. The committee would be not just for looting per se, but also for overall sites protection, which would include strategies for understanding the risks, threats and impacts (cultural as well as natural) to sites and taking action to protect them. Some of this kind of work is not very sexy, but it’s amazing what a load of rocks dumped on a two-track road can do to preserve a site. Conducting periodic site condition assessments is also a good way to monitor site risk, and it’s provided a useful tool for land managers at the federal level.
The current vision of the committee is to spearhead a set of inter-related activity components:
Partnerships– CTA, through the umbrella organization of the Texas Archaeological Society, should develop partnerships with individuals, state and federal agencies that would include private property owners, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, community colleges and universities, local state and federal law enforcement, and city, state and federal land-managing agencies.
Education/Outreach– These partnerships would facilitate the education and outreach in presenting the various state and federal antiquities laws, the extent of the looting problem and damage done, and ideas for addressing the problems and finding solutions.
Workshops– Workshops and other awareness activities could be an effective outreach and training component. Training in archaeological damage assessments allows private landowners and land mangers to apply sound archaeological procedures to translate “site damage” into a specific understanding of the damage looting and vandalism does to an archaeological site and the loss it inflicts on scientific understanding of the past as well as our collective heritage. Related to damage assessments, site condition assessments can provide comparative, baseline, on-the-ground data on the specific human-made and natural risks to which a site is being exposed. Condition assessments then can form the basis for protective measures
Archaeological Responders– The biggest deterrent to looting and vandalism are local site monitors who habitually show a presence at sites and record changing conditions, and the quick and immediate response to a looting by law enforcement and trained archaeological experts. Looting evidence can disappear quickly. Wind and rain can remove evidence, as can human traffic. Often the evidence of repeated looting is subtle, which is where archaeologists can provide their expertise. Trained volunteers for all 12 TAS regions could be the front line of responders to local looting and vandalism activity.
Communication– Effective communication is essential not only to responding to looting activity but also in “getting the word out” to the general public about the costs (both monetary and priceless) to our archaeological resources. Press releases and stories to the media about specific looting events and the costs of looting could enlighten public opinion and enhance awareness.
This is a tall order for a committee (everybody has other things to do), and serves only as a draft blueprint for committee vision, function, and development. Ideas and comments from the CTA membership are welcome. Also, a committee needs members, so this is also a call for a few volunteers who would be willing to serve on the committee for three years. Other committee members will have the opportunity to revise or change the committee’s mission as presented here. Jeff Hanson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone (817)-658-5544.