Ever hear of a "twigger"? Yeah, neither had I, until I read this aptly-titled article ("Drugs, Guns and Dirt") in the March/April issue of Archaeology Magazine. Wow. Twiggers: methamphetamine users (often called "tweakers") who apply the drug's obsessive-compulsive drive to search methodically through archaeological sites, loot them thoroughly, then sell their illegally-gained finds on the black market to get more money to supply them with their meth habit.
And of course, in the process these addicts are destroying the history and culture of the areas they loot, because they aren't exactly doing it in a way that preserves provenance.
Other articles contribute to the details of this exploding "trade:" here, here, here, and this most recent SL Tribune article.
You might be tempted to think this is small potatoes. Nuh-uh. The illegal antiquities trade (on a worldwide scale, although U.S. Southwest native american artifacts are a huge leader) has been estimated to be in the Billions of dollars--right behind drug smuggling and the illegal arms trade. Yikes, no?
I reported the other day on a big bust right here in Southern Utah. Well, that plot has thickened considerably, and all sorts of people are upset now. It seems that some of the local Blanding residents object to having their names "tarnished"; our very open-minded (she says with a curled lip of distaste) Utah senators are crying foul on Interior Secretary Salazar's harsh crack-down; and at least one accused Blanding resident has apparently committed suicide due to his arrest.
The whole situation is sad, to be sure. Law-breaking, disregard for history, for an entire country's right to enjoy its treasures, the loss of life, the bs and the lies...
But I whole-heartedly agree with the federal process. Those locals of Blanding, UT, who willfully broke the law need to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. They do not need to be bailed out. They need to take responsibility for their illegal actions--forced to take it, if need be. Hello, it's called The Antiquities Act of 1906 (yes, that would be 1906, not 2006 for those out there who would like the twist the law to suit themselves), and it says it's ILLEGAL to take ancient human artifacts out of the ground unless you are permitted to do so! And yet many Blanding residents (as well as others throughout the world) justify their actions with the statement, "But I always did it as a kid, it wasn't illegal then." Perhaps not, if you are at least 115 years old.
I live in rural Utah. I come face-to-face with ignorant attitudes toward our country's government on a regular basis. Trust me, the people who have gotten away with their "we hate and don't need the federal government" drama for years need to ante up and recognize that if they don't like it, they can darn well move somewhere else. Such as Siberia. Or maybe, just maybe, they could get themselves educated and caring and start protecting the rich archaeological treasures near their homes.
Okay. Off my rant. And remember not to twig.