Finders Keepers: A Tale of Archaeological Plunder and Obsession

New for 2012! Book reviews for non-fiction titles! I read quite a bit of non-fiction and, as my reviews have slid away from being purely about what I’ve learned about writing through reading into more traditional book review territory, I thought it was time I started recording those as well. First book of the year is Finders Keepers: A Tale of Archaeological Plunder and Obsession by Craig Childs.

The book is an exploration of the ethics of archaeology and I was attracted to reading it because I have a love for the artifacts of the past. Archaeologist was one of my many answers to the question ‘what do you want to be when you grow up?’. The book isn’t quite what I thought it was. I expected a more scholarly approach to the complex and ambiguous question of what we should do with old stuff.

Who should have it? Does it belong in museums where it can be studied? Lots of the stuff in museums has been obtained unethically, especially in the top institutions. Should it go back to the culture it came from? Are artifacts art or information? Should they be displayed for aesthetic enjoyment or catalogued for posterity? Should they be owned by private collectors or held by governments and public insitutions?

There are no easy answers to these questions and Childs presents a range of views in an objective and non-judgemental way. He tells his own stories of his experience of making archaeological finds and what he has done with them, as well as the stories of people involved at various levels of the antiquities trade.

In the end, Childs’ view is that artifacts should be left where they are found, in context. But this view is based on feeling and he struggles to articulate why that is the right thing to do, so the reader is left to make up their own mind if they can.

I enjoyed this, even though it wasn’t quite what I thought it would be, and if you’re interested in old stuff, museums or archaeology it’s worth a read.

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