Tuesday, April 08, 2008

American tombaroli

When considering the problem of modern archaeological plunder, I'm probably not alone in reflexively picturing stubbly-faced Bulgarian men with metal detectors, spades and flashlights, rummaging through the Italian countryside at night in search of illegal antiquities.

I don't know how accurate that image is, but I've spent so much time trying to learn about the cradles of Western civilization that I often overlook the fact that my country, too, has an archaeological record, and that it can also fall prey to looters.

What I find interesting about that case is that the grave robber, since deceased, was apparently an enthusiastic amateur historian and was regarded as a local authority on the subject. It's not tough to imagine him believing, misguidedly, that he was somehow acting as a preservationist for a Civil War cemetery that otherwise might have been forgotten in a dusty archive. Though I don't doubt the good intentions of the real preservationists who've since tackled the site, the end result--exhumation and scattered reinterment of all the remains--somehow doesn't seem like an enormous improvement on the previous situation.

No comments: