Central States Archaeological Societies
Central States Archaeological Societies

 

THE ROMANCE OF COLLECTING     

Rodney M. Peck
Harrisburg, North Carolina


 

 

Collecting anything can be very rewarding and a delightful hobby. People collect anything and everything:  gold coins, thimbles, cars, civil war artifacts, stamps, bottles pictures, dolls, rocks and thousands of other things. However, this paper is limited to only one: the collecting of American Indian artifacts.

The relationship between collectors of American Indian artifacts and archaeologists differs from state to state. I have had many collectors and archaeologists (one from England) in my home to share not only my collection, but also my thoughts and opinions. It is unfortunate that we live in a world that has to place labels on everything and has created barriers between some collectors and archaeologists over the years. Some of the best archaeologists have a degree, not in anthropology or archaeology, but in history and architecture. Both the collector and archaeologist are learning that each has much to offer. Archaeologists rarely recover artifacts in the ground that are of much commercial value, but rather recover fragments of artifacts from trash pits that often provide datable artifacts that the collector would be unable to obtain from any other source. On the other hand, collectors, who probably outnumber archaeologists a thousand to one, can offer the archaeologist extraordinary artifacts that he would probably never recover intact. Thus, a broken artifact excavated may be compared with a complete specimen. An archaeologist should never alienate himself or herself from the collectors, for to do so will surely damage his or her career for a lifetime. I know of several archaeologists whom collectors will never communicate with again.

Over the years many laws have been written on both federal and state levels. In general these laws were written to protect and preserve our heritage. There is no justification for anyone to break these laws. Our federal and state parks, wet lands, etc., are for everyone to enjoy. Therefore, only trained professionals with proper permits are allowed to excavate or surface hunt on these protected lands.

It has been over thirty-six years since I picked up my first point in Virginia. Little did I know what lay ahead for me:  assembling not only a rather nice collection, but also a wealth of information from scores of excavations, countless reports, articles and books. Perhaps the most pleasure, however, has come from the wonderful folks who also collect that I have met over the years.

Four warnings to collectors should be mentioned.  First, be wary of the self-professed expert, for he has ceased to learn.  Second is the widely held belief that anything published is infallible. That’s wrong! Third, buyers beware, for there are many, many reproductions out there for sale as the real thing.  Fourth, be wary of  persons who charge to authenticate your artifacts, for most are only out to make a profit, and all have made mistakes in the past.

Today there are lots of reproductions (a really nice word for fakes) on the market. Fake bannerstones, axes, pottery, discoidals and points of all kinds can be found. About fifteen years ago I wanted a classic dovetail (St. Charles point) for my collection. So realizing how little I knew about dovetails, I decided the only safe course was to go to a reputable dealer and tell him what I wanted. He sold me a nice colorful 4-inch dovetail from Ohio. Five years later I found that the only dovetail in my collection was a modern reproduction (fake). Naturally, I took the point back to the dealer and explained to him what I had discovered and asked for an explanation and either a refund or credit. He replied that he purchases several collections every year and certain percentages are of questionable authenticity. He apologized and gave me a credit with which I purchased an authentic Clovis point. I learned to stay away from artifacts I know nothing about and something about “reputable” dealers!

Perhaps the best collections I have seen over the years are those small ones of personal finds by the collector. They won’t have fifty or so axes, dozens of bannerstones, or pieces that can be traced through ten different collections. These collectors catalogue their finds by sites and only look near their homes. Most collectors, even the larger ones, got their start this way and, perhaps, due to new housing developments, shopping centers, etc., they were forced to go elsewhere, such  as shows and dealers, to obtain artifacts.

Some collectors look at collecting as an investment and accumulate as many rare and valuable artifacts as they can in order to sell them later at a profit. I know of some professional archaeologists who subsidize their incomes by selling American Indian artifacts to museums and collectors, both here in America and in other countries. I also know of a well-respected archaeologist in Connecticut who subsidized his income by working as a clerk in a hardware store.

Collecting American Indian artifacts has been going on since Columbus discovered America in 1492 and will continue. Picking up a point in a plowed field has a certain part in history and should be encouraged, but the person who collects without any thought as to how his acquisition was made or used belongs in much the same bracket as the archaeologist who does not publish site reports for the public.

Many collectors have donated fine artifacts to both state museums and colleges, and without these donations, their collections would be inferior. Remember, while collecting American Indian artifacts is a wonderful hobby, obey the state and federal laws  and always get the landowner's permission.

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