by Craig Childs
Ownership can be such a fickle thing. When a pot or an arrowhead has been abandoned in the desert for hundreds of years, to whom does it belong? Should it go to the collector who found it, disappearing into a private collection and losing its provenience in the process? Or should the artifact instead go to the archaeologist and the storage room of a museum, carefully documented but virtually lost in the already-overflowing collections of institutions around the world? The legal solution to the question doesn't interest Childs, but rather the ethical and moral answer. As he interviews scientists and pothunters, focusing on the American Southwest but applying its lessons globally. Although Childs' personal opinion is that artifacts should be left in their context so that they can be enjoyed by anyone who finds them, his fair and evenhanded approach to the questions shares a variety of opinions without overly praising or vilifying any of them. If you haven't already got an opinion on the subject, Childs gives you the information you need to form one; if you already have a preference Finders Keepers just may help you understand why the opposing side feels as strongly as it does.
I really liked this book. Childs slips back and forth between journalist's neutrality and the romantic love of an adventurer for roaming around in the unknown. From each interview he manages to capture the love each man or woman has for history, whether it manifests as an archeologists who weeps for the dead as she excavates their bones or an illegal pot collector who loves the physical connection he creates with the past every time he touches one of his relics. In an ideal world, I think that Childs' preference for leaving the objects wherever they were found would be perfect – but as things are, that just seems like an invitation for someone else to steal it or for vandals to destroy it. As someone who started working in museums specifically so that I could touch the objects behind the glass, I can really identify with the passionate desire to touch the past. But I am ultimately an “institution” person, and I fall firmly in the “Let the professionals take care of artifacts!” camp.
5 out of 5 stars
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Peeking into the archives...today in:
2012: Congratulations to the winner!
2011: Update: Tales of the Tudors Giveaway
2010: News: Wikipedia's 'Iraq War' entry to be published in print, complete with 12K edits
2009: News: Neil Gaiman's Library on Shelfari
2008: Discussion Topic: It's Not Just Books We Read...