Before I start my book review post, I have to rant about the following two items. One, I went to the library today and there was a Suburban parked in the “fuel effiecient vehicle” spot. C’mon. Two, I really, really, really meant to post a few times this week, but the keyboard on the main (my) (desktop) computer went kerblooey this week. By kerblooey I mean that when you press the space bar, something random happens. You may get a space, you may get a “ding”, you may get a random character, you may get a pop up menu, or you may just randomly move to someplace new on the page/screen. Very frustrating if you are actually trying to type something. So I’m doing this post on Elwood, while sitting on the couch and watching the Astros and making lots of typos. I’m not really accustomed to doing much on a laptop keyboard. I see a new keyboard in my future, like tomorrow.
Finders Keepers: Tale of Archaeological Plunder and Obsession by Craig Childs is the best non-fiction book I’ve read this year. Childs puts on his amateur archaeologist hat and leads the reader on a quest to answer the question, “just what should we do with artifacts from the past?” He does an excellent job of presenting different sides of this ethical dilemma. “Finders Keepers” is the perhaps the oldest rule of archaeology; if you find it, you decide what should happen to it.
Craig talks to archaeologists, treasure hunters, museum curators, officials involved with enforcing laws concerning collection and repatriation of native American artifacts, antiquities dealers, and collectors. He relates tales of specific artifacts and archaeological discoveries, as well as the stories of the people who have controlled and dealt with the artifacts. Really, there is no easy answer to these questions and I was happy that Childs wasn’t preachy.
I thought the book was fascinating and very well written. I’ll be sending it to daughter #2, the archaeology major – I hope she’ll find it as interesting as I did, but she may find it a bit too elementary. Husband gave up after the first 70 pages or so, finding it a bit redundant. I sometimes feel that way about non-fiction, best said with the comment, “It would have been a great in-depth magazine article,” but I didn’t feel that way at all about Finders Keepers. I really enjoyed the personal anecdotes. My two favorites were the story of Sitting Bull’s pipe and the salvage archaeologist who was responsible for handling the excavations of skeletons.
Childs focuses most of his attention on the American west, especially the four corners region. This is where he lives, and what he knows best and cares about, but he does bring in interesting stories from around the world that help express/explain different aspects of the issue.
If you are looking for a solid non-fiction read, and if the question of what to do with artifacts from the past interests you at all, I highly recommend Finders Keepers. I will never again visit a historical museum without wondering about the backstory of everything I see in it.