About as un-sexy as you can get: Spike TV digs into televised looting

Spike TV, known for such masterpieces of modern television as Ink Master, 1000 Ways to Die, Repo Games, and Auction Hunters has found another way to entertain its legion of couch potato fans: televised looting.

February 15th, Spike TV announced it would begin airing a new series in March entitled American Digger.  “American Digger” follows the American Savage team (led by former professional wrestler-turned-modern- day relic hunter Ric Savage) as they scour target-rich areas, such as battlefields and historic sites, in hopes of striking it rich by unearthing and selling rare pieces of American history.

If you though Hollywood was above glamorizing the lives of thieves and criminals, boy were you wrong!  American Digger, which begins airing March 20th, aims to spit in the face of archaeological research by teaching you how to supplement your income in these tough economic times with looting!

For those of you who aren’t too familiar with how archaeology works (pay attention Spike TV execs), taking cultural artifacts out of the ground, removing them from their context, and selling them for profit is not only classified as looting, it is also disrespectful and damaging to the historical record.  In fact doing it on Federal land, battlefields and historic sites is a very serious crime and will land you in prison for a great number of years.  So why on earth would anyone consider putting that on television?

I called the Gurney Productions on Friday to ask them just that.  Unfortunately, no one was in so I’ll have to call back on Monday.

Already the outcry from individuals within the archaeological community has been loud and clear: this show is unacceptable.  The full press release, which you can read here, already has over 120 comments expressing such rightly justified emotions as disgust, horror and utter shock.  I encourage everyone to contribute to the comments section at the bottom of the press release.  State your name, your level of involvement with archaeology (even if you’re just an enthusiast), and your feelings towards bastardizing the work that real professionals do.

I for one am ready to wage a public relations jihad against any network, production company, cast, and crew who would disrespect the field of archaeology, the work that I do, and the cultures or people they would exploit to line their pockets.  Let your voice be heard.  Send feedback to Spike TV here. You can join the ‘People against Spike TV’s American Digger‘ Facebook group and sign this petition.

My name is Kurt Thomas Hunt.  I hold a BA in Archaeology and an MA in Archaeology for Screen Media.  I maintain an archaeoblog called Sexy Archaeology and serve as a consultant for production companies interested in putting good archaeology on TV.  I have also worked in the field of CRM for a number of years and witnessed firsthand the damage that can be caused by looting.  As someone who has dedicated their life to archaeology; to the conservation of heritage and to making sure that good science is a mainstay in the headlines, I am utterly disgusted by the concept of this show.  Taking cultural artifacts out of the ground, removing them from their context, and selling them for profit is not only classified as looting, it is also disrespectful to the people who created those objects and damaging to our understanding of the past.  In fact doing it on Federal lands, battlefields, and historic sites is a very serious crime and will land you in prison for a great number of years.  It is my firm belief that the series American Digger will promote the illegal hunting of artifacts and result in massive and irreversible damage to the cultural heritage of this country.  Do not let this series air.

 

American arrested over alleged antiquities smuggling in Israel

Israeli authorities arrested a retired American university lecturer (who should have known better) this week on suspicion of selling ancient artifacts illegally to U.S. tourists, they said Wednesday.

The suspect, a tour guide, is accused of selling ancient coins and 1,500-year-old clay lamps, and pocketing the equivalent of $20,000.

He admitted attempting to smuggle antiquities, selling suspected stolen antiques and trafficking in antiquities without a permit, the authorities said.

He was allowed to fly to the United States after depositing “a large bond,” to “ensure he will show up for trial in the future,” they said.

The suspect faces up to three years in prison.

Amir Ganor, director of the Israel Antiquities Authority Unit for the Prevention of Antiquities Robbery, also criticized the buyers, saying Wednesday they “are actually encouraging antiquities robbery and the plundering of the country’s history.”

The suspect, who has not been named, was detained once before after Israel Antiquities Authority inspectors raided a hotel room where he was selling ancient artifacts, they said. They seized hundreds of objects allegedly stolen by antiquities robbers from different sites throughout the country, they said.

But the suspect was released after questioning, the IAA said in a statement Wednesday, without explaining why.

He was under undercover surveillance during the last week, and resumed his illegal activities, selling artifacts to a group of American tourists, Israeli authorities say.

The tourists were detained Monday in a “wide-sweeping, combined operation” in Eilat and at Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv.

Eilat customs officials and Antiquities Authority inspectors “were amazed to discover that about 20 members of the group possessed dozens archaeological items purchased in Israel illicitly, which they attempted to take out of the country illegally and without a permit,” the IAA said.

They seized ancient bronze and silver coins dating to the Second Temple period approximately 2,000 years ago, as well as clay oil lamps and glass and pottery vessels.

The tourists said they had bought them from their tour guide, paying more than $20,000 in total, Israeli officials said.

The tour guide was detained Monday night at Ben Gurion airport while trying to leave Israel, they said.

He had ancient coins, but no permit to export them, plus “evidence indicating dozens of illegal sales of antiquities during the past two weeks,” they said.

From CNN

*UPDATE*

When John Lund brought ancient coins and oil lamps from Jordan and Bethlehem into Israel, he had no idea he was breaking the nation’s law.

When he tried to leave the country several days later, he had no idea he soon would be known around the world as an international antiquities smuggler.

The retired university lecturer, author and tour guide lives in Murray and has guided 4,000 people through sites important to Mormon theology for more than 30 years. He was detained on May 14 as he attempted to leave Israel with the ornate oil lamps and 100 bronze coins. He did buy some antiquities from street vendors in Bethlehem, which is under Palestinian control. He said he was not aware he was only to buy from Israeli-authorized dealers and he did not know he needed to obtain an exit visa in order to transport the artifacts out of the country legally.

“Did I break the law? Yes. Did I break the law knowingly? Absolutely not,” he said Thursday. “They need to be clear with tourists with what is legal and not. This is a blind-side. I could not have been more blind-sided.”

Lund guided a group of about 90 people through Bethlehem, and several had run out of cash for souvenirs. He had them write him personal checks in $200 amounts in exchange for extra cash Lund had brought in case such a situation occurred. He also arranged group purchases of Bethlehem baby blankets and Bethlehem alabaster jars with spikenard inside and said he did not make money on the transaction. He said he also facilitated the $2,000 purchase of a silver Tyre shekel, also known as a Judas coin, for one of the tour participants.

During a meeting for the tour group at their hotel, agents from the Israel Antiquities Authority entered and confiscated a binder filled with coins — which he said he has for research into his upcoming book, Bible Coins of Interest to Christians — and several lamps that members of the tour group said they wanted to purchase. Other items from Lund’s hotel room were confiscated, and he was taken to the authority’s headquarters for three hours of “intense interrogation” where he was told he could not ask any questions.

He was released but put under undercover surveillance for the rest of his trip, authority officials said.

The authority said in a statement that Lund had stolen ancient coins in his possession. He also had checks totaling more than $20,000 believed to be from the illegal sales of ancient coins, clay oil lamps, and glass and pottery vessels, the authority said.

Lund was allowed to leave after posting a $7,500 bond meant to guarantee he will return to stand trial, said Shai Bar Tura, deputy director of the authority’s theft prevention unit. Bar Tura said formal charges are expected.

Lund said he paid the money and signed several forms in Hebrew that were verbally translated to him that indicated he had smuggled the items. He said he signed them under coercion and was desperate to get back home to Utah.

Antiquities officials discovered Lund selling artifacts at a lecture he gave in a Jerusalem hotel, Bar Tura said. They seized the items, searched him and his hotel room, where they found hundreds of artifacts, Bar Tura said.

Because all the items had been recovered and Lund was a tourist, “We thought it was appropriate to let him off with a warning,” Bar Tura said. “But we kept our eyes open … and sure enough, the guy kept on doing what he was told not to.”

Officials at the Israeli border with Egypt examined the bags of members of Lund’s tour group and discovered 50 stolen items that they said Lund had sold to them, Bar Tura said.

An arrest warrant was issued, and Lund was picked up at the airport trying to leave Israel. In his possession, officials found ancient coins and 70 checks written to him by tourists, Bar Tura said.

Bar Tura said Lund could face up to three years in jail if convicted.

Lund plans to appeal to the U.S. Embassy and find a lawyer versed in international antiquities laws to fight the charges, which he says stemmed from a simple miscommunication.

“Am I willing to forfeit a bond of $ 7,125 or plead no contest and pay a reasonable fine for a first-time-made-aware offender? Yes,” he said Thursday, adding that he is willing to voluntarily return other antiquities to Israel even though he has not been asked to do so.

He said he still loves Israel but will have to see how the situation develops before he decides whether he will return to the country in October for another scheduled tour.

“I’m glad to be back safe in America were we have the ability to appeal to civil recourse,” he said. “I’m questioning how democratic that situation was.”

From The Salt Lake Tribune

American arrested over alleged antiquities smuggling in Israel

Israeli authorities arrested a retired American university lecturer (who should have known better) this week on suspicion of selling ancient artifacts illegally to U.S. tourists, they said Wednesday.

The suspect, a tour guide, is accused of selling ancient coins and 1,500-year-old clay lamps, and pocketing the equivalent of $20,000.

He admitted attempting to smuggle antiquities, selling suspected stolen antiques and trafficking in antiquities without a permit, the authorities said.

He was allowed to fly to the United States after depositing “a large bond,” to “ensure he will show up for trial in the future,” they said.

The suspect faces up to three years in prison.

Amir Ganor, director of the Israel Antiquities Authority Unit for the Prevention of Antiquities Robbery, also criticized the buyers, saying Wednesday they “are actually encouraging antiquities robbery and the plundering of the country’s history.”

The suspect, who has not been named, was detained once before after Israel Antiquities Authority inspectors raided a hotel room where he was selling ancient artifacts, they said. They seized hundreds of objects allegedly stolen by antiquities robbers from different sites throughout the country, they said.

But the suspect was released after questioning, the IAA said in a statement Wednesday, without explaining why.

He was under undercover surveillance during the last week, and resumed his illegal activities, selling artifacts to a group of American tourists, Israeli authorities say.

The tourists were detained Monday in a “wide-sweeping, combined operation” in Eilat and at Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv.

Eilat customs officials and Antiquities Authority inspectors “were amazed to discover that about 20 members of the group possessed dozens archaeological items purchased in Israel illicitly, which they attempted to take out of the country illegally and without a permit,” the IAA said.

They seized ancient bronze and silver coins dating to the Second Temple period approximately 2,000 years ago, as well as clay oil lamps and glass and pottery vessels.

The tourists said they had bought them from their tour guide, paying more than $20,000 in total, Israeli officials said.

The tour guide was detained Monday night at Ben Gurion airport while trying to leave Israel, they said.

He had ancient coins, but no permit to export them, plus “evidence indicating dozens of illegal sales of antiquities during the past two weeks,” they said.

From CNN

*UPDATE*

When John Lund brought ancient coins and oil lamps from Jordan and Bethlehem into Israel, he had no idea he was breaking the nation’s law.

When he tried to leave the country several days later, he had no idea he soon would be known around the world as an international antiquities smuggler.

The retired university lecturer, author and tour guide lives in Murray and has guided 4,000 people through sites important to Mormon theology for more than 30 years. He was detained on May 14 as he attempted to leave Israel with the ornate oil lamps and 100 bronze coins. He did buy some antiquities from street vendors in Bethlehem, which is under Palestinian control. He said he was not aware he was only to buy from Israeli-authorized dealers and he did not know he needed to obtain an exit visa in order to transport the artifacts out of the country legally.

“Did I break the law? Yes. Did I break the law knowingly? Absolutely not,” he said Thursday. “They need to be clear with tourists with what is legal and not. This is a blind-side. I could not have been more blind-sided.”

Lund guided a group of about 90 people through Bethlehem, and several had run out of cash for souvenirs. He had them write him personal checks in $200 amounts in exchange for extra cash Lund had brought in case such a situation occurred. He also arranged group purchases of Bethlehem baby blankets and Bethlehem alabaster jars with spikenard inside and said he did not make money on the transaction. He said he also facilitated the $2,000 purchase of a silver Tyre shekel, also known as a Judas coin, for one of the tour participants.

During a meeting for the tour group at their hotel, agents from the Israel Antiquities Authority entered and confiscated a binder filled with coins — which he said he has for research into his upcoming book, Bible Coins of Interest to Christians — and several lamps that members of the tour group said they wanted to purchase. Other items from Lund’s hotel room were confiscated, and he was taken to the authority’s headquarters for three hours of “intense interrogation” where he was told he could not ask any questions.

He was released but put under undercover surveillance for the rest of his trip, authority officials said.

The authority said in a statement that Lund had stolen ancient coins in his possession. He also had checks totaling more than $20,000 believed to be from the illegal sales of ancient coins, clay oil lamps, and glass and pottery vessels, the authority said.

Lund was allowed to leave after posting a $7,500 bond meant to guarantee he will return to stand trial, said Shai Bar Tura, deputy director of the authority’s theft prevention unit. Bar Tura said formal charges are expected.

Lund said he paid the money and signed several forms in Hebrew that were verbally translated to him that indicated he had smuggled the items. He said he signed them under coercion and was desperate to get back home to Utah.

Antiquities officials discovered Lund selling artifacts at a lecture he gave in a Jerusalem hotel, Bar Tura said. They seized the items, searched him and his hotel room, where they found hundreds of artifacts, Bar Tura said.

Because all the items had been recovered and Lund was a tourist, “We thought it was appropriate to let him off with a warning,” Bar Tura said. “But we kept our eyes open … and sure enough, the guy kept on doing what he was told not to.”

Officials at the Israeli border with Egypt examined the bags of members of Lund’s tour group and discovered 50 stolen items that they said Lund had sold to them, Bar Tura said.

An arrest warrant was issued, and Lund was picked up at the airport trying to leave Israel. In his possession, officials found ancient coins and 70 checks written to him by tourists, Bar Tura said.

Bar Tura said Lund could face up to three years in jail if convicted.

Lund plans to appeal to the U.S. Embassy and find a lawyer versed in international antiquities laws to fight the charges, which he says stemmed from a simple miscommunication.

“Am I willing to forfeit a bond of $ 7,125 or plead no contest and pay a reasonable fine for a first-time-made-aware offender? Yes,” he said Thursday, adding that he is willing to voluntarily return other antiquities to Israel even though he has not been asked to do so.

He said he still loves Israel but will have to see how the situation develops before he decides whether he will return to the country in October for another scheduled tour.

“I’m glad to be back safe in America were we have the ability to appeal to civil recourse,” he said. “I’m questioning how democratic that situation was.”

From The Salt Lake Tribune

The Skeleton in the Closet

Quite a few people found their way to Sexy Archaeology this week with the key words “Gay skeleton”, “gay caveman”, and “sexy caveman”.  While I can’t explain why those search phrases brought them here, as I’m neither gay nor a caveman, I knew that sooner or later I was going to have to start penning a post to tackle this media kerfuffle.

When the news broke this week that a 5000 year old “Gay caveman” had been discovered in Czech Republic, I was (gasp) immediately skeptical (Skepticism? So not in my nature!).  I saw the story first in The Daily Mail, a UK newspaper which tries to pretend it isn’t a tabloid for some unknown reason.  Shortly thereafter the story started popping up in other news outlets (Huff Post, CTV, The Telegraph).  Each headline “succeeded” in two things: inferring this man’s sexuality AND referring to him in the most outdated of hominid terms: caveman.

And so it began.  I sat down at the computer and began pouring over some of the most poorly written “science” articles I’ve read all year.  My main question: what was it exactly that had the the media in a buzz over the discovery of the “World’s first homosexual”?

The fact that he was buried in a position typically reserved for women.

That was it?  Pump the proverbial brakes… archaeology is supposed to be a scientific field.  So where’s the science?  Well here is the “science” from The Telegraph:

The skeleton was found in a Prague suburb in the Czech Republic with its head pointing eastwards and surrounded by domestic jugs, rituals only previously seen in female graves.

“From history and ethnology, we know that people from this period took funeral rites very seriously so it is highly unlikely that this positioning was a mistake,” said lead archaeologist Kamila Remisova Vesinova.
Ergo…
“Far more likely is that he was a man with a different sexual orientation, homosexual or transsexual,” she added.

According to Corded Ware culture which began in the late Stone Age and culminated in the Bronze Age, men were traditionally buried lying on their right side with their heads pointing towards the west, and women on their left sides with their heads pointing towards the east. Both sexes would be put into a crouching position.

So that’s it?  That is the science?  I can’t begin to label the number of possible reasons this assumption of sexual preference could very well be wrong.  Not to mention that all of the media reports dodge details of how the skeleton was sexed, an important line of evidence that has has been pointed out by numerous other sites.  There are a number of methods for identifying the sex of a skeleton (bone size comparison, studying the size of the pelvis and the pelvic inlet, etc…), but a DNA analysis is by far the most conclusive.  Has that been performed with this skeleton?  I don’t know, the articles make no mention of it.  And if you are going to make claims like this, you might want throw all the evidence you have out there.  And let’s not forget all the other cultural explanations that this burial could have.  Perhaps this was an outsider that came into this community, or a person of special reverence, just to name a few.

So is this just a text book case of making a claim in an attempt to garner a bit of media attention?  Feels that way.  Regardless, it pisses me off to see the media plastering this story in the headlines based on such flimsy evidence.  Unfortunately, it isn’t the first time and it certainly won’t be the last.

————-

And, as a side note, I’d invite everyone to check out this article at Salon, which does a fine job highlighting the absurdity around the story and the way it was reported.

The Skeleton in the Closet

Quite a few people found their way to Sexy Archaeology this week with the key words “Gay skeleton”, “gay caveman”, and “sexy caveman”.  While I can’t explain why those search phrases brought them here, as I’m neither gay nor a caveman, I knew that sooner or later I was going to have to start penning a post to tackle this media kerfuffle.

When the news broke this week that a 5000 year old “Gay caveman” had been discovered in Czech Republic, I was (gasp) immediately skeptical (Skepticism? So not in my nature!).  I saw the story first in The Daily Mail, a UK newspaper which tries to pretend it isn’t a tabloid for some unknown reason.  Shortly thereafter the story started popping up in other news outlets (Huff Post, CTV, The Telegraph).  Each headline “succeeded” in two things: inferring this man’s sexuality AND referring to him in the most outdated of hominid terms: caveman.

And so it began.  I sat down at the computer and began pouring over some of the most poorly written “science” articles I’ve read all year.  My main question: what was it exactly that had the the media in a buzz over the discovery of the “World’s first homosexual”?

The fact that he was buried in a position typically reserved for women.

That was it?  Pump the proverbial brakes… archaeology is supposed to be a scientific field.  So where’s the science?  Well here is the “science” from The Telegraph:

The skeleton was found in a Prague suburb in the Czech Republic with its head pointing eastwards and surrounded by domestic jugs, rituals only previously seen in female graves.

“From history and ethnology, we know that people from this period took funeral rites very seriously so it is highly unlikely that this positioning was a mistake,” said lead archaeologist Kamila Remisova Vesinova.

Ergo…

“Far more likely is that he was a man with a different sexual orientation, homosexual or transsexual,” she added.

According to Corded Ware culture which began in the late Stone Age and culminated in the Bronze Age, men were traditionally buried lying on their right side with their heads pointing towards the west, and women on their left sides with their heads pointing towards the east. Both sexes would be put into a crouching position.

So that’s it?  That is the science?  I can’t begin to label the number of possible reasons this assumption of sexual preference could very well be wrong.  Not to mention that all of the media reports dodge details of how the skeleton was sexed, an important line of evidence that has has been pointed out by numerous other sites.  There are a number of methods for identifying the sex of a skeleton (bone size comparison, studying the size of the pelvis and the pelvic inlet, etc…), but a DNA analysis is by far the most conclusive.  Has that been performed with this skeleton?  I don’t know, the articles make no mention of it.  And if you are going to make claims like this, you might want throw all the evidence you have out there.  And let’s not forget all the other cultural explanations that this burial could have.  Perhaps this was an outsider that came into this community, or a person of special reverence, just to name a few.

So is this just a text book case of making a claim in an attempt to garner a bit of media attention?  Feels that way.  Regardless, it pisses me off to see the media plastering this story in the headlines based on such flimsy evidence.  Unfortunately, it isn’t the first time and it certainly won’t be the last.

————-

And, as a side note, I’d invite everyone to check out this article at Salon, which does a fine job highlighting the absurdity around the story and the way it was reported.

Archaeology FAIL

Oh how I love me a good busted looter. This weeks Archaeology FAIL comes from the prairie state.

This week, an Illinois man pleaded guilty to a federal felony and admitted illegally digging up and selling prehistoric artifacts for years.

Leslie Jones, of Creal Springs, pleaded guilty to the unauthorized excavation, removal or damage of archaeological resources in federal court in Benton. As part of the plea, Jones admitted digging up and selling pottery fragments and other artifacts from the Cypress Creek National Wildlife Refuge from 2004-2007. The refuge is located in southern Illinois north of Cairo.

Jones got between $20 and $40 per item, court documents say.

As part of the plea, Jones also agreed to pay the government $150,326 ($15,941 for the cost of repairing the damage from his digging and $134,385 representing the “archaeological value” lost).

Two archaeologists determined that he had disturbed 130 cubic meters of material during his diggings, according to plea documents.

He could have faced two years in prison under federal sentencing guidelines, but prosecutors and Jones’ public defender agreed that most of the artifacts had been recovered and that he made much less from the artifact sales that was anticipated by the guidelines. They agreed to ask for five years of probation, 30 days in jail, and 500 hours of community service.  Link.

I hope I’m not the only one glad to see this looter punk brought to justice.

As a side note, thanks to Elizabeth Reid and Marcus Hensel for sending a few great suggestions for our looters section!

Archaeology FAIL

Exploration FAIL is something else entirely...

The HMS Terror.  The name itself is cool enough to perk ears.  But take into account the exciting history of the vessel and you can begin to fathom a boat load of reasons why someone would want to seek out this missing vessel, along with its co-explorer the HMS Erebus.

Low and behold, a search for the ships was planned for this month.  However, the team of would be explorers is now facing threat of criminal charges for failing to secure the necessary permissions, leading to this week’s ARCHAOELOGY FAIL!

The group, which includes marine archeologist Rob Rondeau from ProCom Diving Services in Alberta, has been preparing to search this month for the HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, which disappeared in the High Arctic more than 160 years ago.

Julie Ross, an archeologist with the Nunavut government, told CBC News she’s upset that Rondeau’s team tried to start searching last week, even though it had been denied a territorial archeological permit.

“I think that this behaviour is very disrespectful to Nunavut and Nunavut resources,” Ross told CBC News.  It reflects the sort of attitude that we meet very often: that people from the South can come into the territory and do anything they want, regardless of the Nunavut land claim agreement, and other policies and procedures that the government of Nunavut has developed and put in place.”  Link.

While I’m sure any archaeologist, including this one, would love to see the missing ships discovered, we want it done in a responsible manner and that includes, first and foremost, securing the correct permissions from all affected parties!  Laws are in place for a reason and it would be wise for anyone, regardless of how ambitious their project is to respect them!

Before you head off on an adventure, make sure that you understand the laws protecting archeological resources on federal lands.  If you are not familiar with the State and Federal Archaeology Laws where you live, begin by contacting your local Preservation Office (SHPO or THPO).

Did you know:

  • President Theodore Roosevelt signed the Antiquities Act into law in 1906, establishing the first general legal protection of cultural and natural resources in the United States.