Finders Keepers: A Tale of Archaeological Plunder and Obsession
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Finders Keepers: A Tale of Archaeological Plunder and Obsession

3.62 of 5 stars 3.62  ·  rating details  ·  354 ratings  ·  83 reviews
To whom does the past belong? Is the archeologist who discovers a lost tomb a sort of hero--or a villain? If someone steals a relic from a museum and returns it to the ruin it came from, is she a thief? Written in his trademark lyrical style, Craig Childs's riveting new book is a ghost story--an intense, impassioned investigation into the nature of the past and the things...more
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Published August 25th 2010 by Little, Brown and Company (first published August 6th 2010)
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Jan 05, 2012 Abby added it
In southwest archaeology circles, I've heard a range of opinions about this Craig Childs fellow. Most recently I heard from an archaeobotanist, "He's not a professional, but he's very sincere and he has a genuine desire to know about the past. When he talks to you, he has these little strips of paper that he takes notes on." Sounds like someone I'd get along with. I like the way he approaches the issue with care and complexity, taking into account the very real emotional side of archaeology. Tr...more
Hard to put down. Perhaps because I live in the heart of the west that Childs has written about I am drawn to his work. The book explores with little bias all of the sides of antiquities and what we do with them. His presence on Facebook is, however, quite irritating. He acts like a person seeking daily recognition and yet his books speak for themselves.
To take? Or not to take. Like the dilemma that surrounds the Titanic. Was Indiana Jones justified to pilfer his objects only because his life was in jeopardy? It made great movies but in real life there are all kinds of laws that govern these things.

This was a lovely picture of a kiva on the cover, and we really enjoyed descending into the one (Coronado State Monument) near Albuquerque where they also proudly presented artifacts such as an authentic soldier helmet (and other paraphernalia) from...more
I found Childs' writing style very nice. It felt like he was engaging in a conversation. It was quite approachable and he was able to portray the issues in a clear light.

I don't agree with all of Childs' view points, however. While he talks about laws that protect cultural resources, he doesn't full grasp the reasoning behind it, especially when taking into account what an archaeologist does. We do not just go, dig in a site, and collect items for museums or repositories. We also search to under...more
As it turns out, the author’s title is unbelievably appropriate as it describes the essence of the entirety of the book – a personal reaction to the discovery of artifacts.

Childs sets out to describe the history behind humanity’s need to understand its past. He artfully crafts a story based in part on his own personal, and very diverse, travels about the globe. He tells of grand discoveries as often as simple broken pots. Childs successfully creates a sense that each item has a tale to tell and...more
In this book, Craig Childs puts on his amateur archaeologist hat and takes the reader along as he explores the different sides of the archaeological ethics debate, "What should happen to artifacts from the past?" The oldest rule is "finders, keepers" which simply means that whoever finds the artifact can decide what to do with it. Childs has done a lot of research and personally visited with professional and amateur archaeologists, museum curators, officials responsible for enforcing various law...more
Craig Childs is one of my favorite nature writers who has lately ventured into archaeological writing. This book is an interesting musing on who owns the past and what should be done with artifacts. His bottom line is we have collected enough, enjoy what we've collected and leave the rest where it is. Being part of the ground is part of it's history and part of our sense of place. He does bring up some interesting ideas and its very readable. More a series of essays than a book. Will be interest...more
ej cullen
New age archeology. (Look, but don't touch anything, just leave it there.) Noble sentiments, but with Childs' post- hippie philosophy, the only way you'll ever see any historical artifacts is if you spend your life in a Jeep, and, wherever you finally park, foraging with a toothpick and a paint brush. And even then, all you might find are some broken shards and an arrowhead (if you're lucky,) which artifacts you won't tell anyone about because they might dig them up. The book contains some inter...more
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Just to give context - there's nothing I'd rather do than hike in the desert southwest, searching the ground for something, anything, that connects me to the people who lived there a thousand years ago. So, I've definitely struggled with whether to pick up a sherd or leave it in place. The best thing about this book is that Mr. Childs didn't come up with a black and white answer as to who should own the touchable pieces of our past. Instead, he gave numerous examp...more
An interesting examination of relics as historical records in context vs. historical records in museums and personal collections. I found Childs' placing intrinsic meaning in items left behind by others fascinating.

p.14: "The general cutoff for archaeology is sixty years. Before that, it is trash, after than, an artifact. In a way, this is an arbitrary line, but sixty years is about the time when objects begin to fade from living memory. Even ugly things become beautiful after sixty years. A fo...more
I was eager to snatch up Child’s latest book, because he’s spent even more time wandering around to backcountry ruins than I have, and I was ecstatic to see that this book dealt with the questions that have always circled in my head when I visited these lonely sites.

It seems to me that pothunters and archaeologists are just two spots on a long spectrum the inevitably destroys the evidence of history. Childs deals with this issue beautifully, showing the pros and cons of both ways. He talks abou...more
Sandy D.
This is a very interesting and well-written book on archaeology and the ethics of collecting prehistoric artifacts. Childs is pretty even-handed, and delves into the history a bit (especially when it comes to his stomping grounds in the SW US), taking a sympathetic look at the motivations of all concerned: amateurs, professionals, shovel bums and museum curators alike.

Most archaeologists are terrible, awful, very bad writers, and Childs is not. So it is good that he wrote this, even (especially?...more
A lot of interesting ideas about artifacts, archaeology, museums, collectors, pothunters, etc. A couple disjointed thoughts to follow:

Childs clearly concludes that artifacts should remain where they lie -- out in "the wild" -- generally out of respect for the dead and their things. I buy his analogy between artifacts and corpses, but find his underlying assumptions a little irritating. Why should dead people be held as sacred in the first place? Isn't this question worth exploring?

Childs seems t...more
I liked this book because it brought up a lot of questions I had never thought about - Who "owns" an archaeological artifact? Is it "better" for a low level artifact to be in museum storage, owned by a private collector, or left where it was? What is our goal with archaeology? Is it "better" to spread cultural artifacts around the world for education or to keep artifacts in their cultural context? It was also eye-opening to read about how private demand for artifacts has led to major plundering...more
I really enjoyed this book; there were a few essays he included that might have been over-the-top, but short enough that it didn't do damage to the over-all effect of the book. Exactly what was the over-all effect of this book? He states is opinion fairly clearly, though even he has some moments when he seems uncertain that what he believes is always the best way. And I did like that; that he could see when that sometimes a different way of doing something might be better. And yes is seemed it w...more
I hate to give this book such a negative review, because it's the exact sort of thing you'd think I would be really into - a dissection of the extraordinarily complicated emotional, financial, cultural and moral issues surrounding the business and science of archaeology. Also, the author tries very hard to treat his subject in a thoughtful manner, and if there's one thing I appreciate in a book, it is thoughtfulness. However, in this author's case, instead of coming across as thoughtful and care...more
Catherine Hermanson
Going past the Indiana Jones side of archaeology and relic hunting, Craig Childs dives into the world of ethics behind it all. Now, as a highschool student... I tend to get side tracked easily. As much as its cool to learn people, events, times and places, It is difficult to sit down and read words with no emotion behind them, no excitment. But Childs somehow made boring dates and everyday excavations seem like a whole diffrent world of archaeology then I was originally presented with.
In the bo...more
Sara Reeves
I folded over a lot of corners in this book because there was a story or a quote that I found particularly thought provoking. However, the book quickly becomes very repetitive. He makes his point very early on about how he feels about artifacts, his conflicting thoughts, his ambivalences, etc. Then he continues to belabor that point in between the little vignettes that I think are supposed to help illustrate his thoughts. Even the vignettes start to get repetitive after a while. Also, there is o...more
Angelina Justice
This book was engaging and hard to put down at times. That is a major accomplishment for non-fiction that wades into intellectual and philosophical waters.

I was engaged in the book from the beginning, but I connected with Childs on page 151 when I read the words "They're in love, the root and the jar, can't you see?" He was conveying his horrified reaction to the lack of connection that an archeologist showed for the artifact and it's relationship to it's setting. He could have done this in many...more
I'm a huge fan of Childs's writing and his appreciation for nature out in the wild. (This is a guy who's done solo treks out in the desert, just because he thinks it's beautiful out there.) Here he moves onto more controversial territory: rather than admiring the beauty of a jaguar's movements, he muses over archaeological artifacts and the aesthetics, morality, and general confusion involving the finding of them.

So: you find something. It has historical and cultural value. Can you take it? Do y...more
A mummified infant was once found on our property in Eastern Utah, cradled in a woven basket within a shallow cave. It was rightly excavated and donated to the local museum. Having grown up in the Southwest I would often go arrowhead hunting with my father on our property. Though I was never really successful at this I enjoyed the process. We had many hieroglyphics on the sandstone walls of our property and we had many discussions about the peoples who came before us. These were exciting and mem...more
Jacob Anderson
Before reading this book, I had very little knowledge of the archaeological world. I bought this book after hearing from the author at my school, Southern Utah University, and became intrigued to buy it. This book was incredible. I never realized the intricate web of ethical debates the field demands. The author does a tremendous job mixing archaeology and philosophy, and is a very easy read. Someone at the convocation asked the purpose of the book, and he explained he wanted people to be more c...more
"Beyond what most people think about archaeology--with its cleanly numbered dates, and discoveries--lies a vibrant and controversial realm of scientists, thieves, and contested land claims.Childs explores the field's transgressions against the cultures it tries to preserve andpauses to ask: To whom does the past belong?"
This jacket review covers it. Craig Childs explores the world of our excitement in finding things and why we keep them. This goes way beyond Indiana Jones and his statement of "T...more
Diane C.
I had not considered how varied and wild the world of archeology really is, until I read this book. The huge debate in their world regarding taking antiquities from their resting place (yes it's plundering, but moves the artifacts to museums, usually, where we can all enjoy and learn from them about the human past). The different kinds of collectors, all the way from heedless diggers with shelves of valuable meso-american jars and tools in their houses to careful, professional archeologists who...more
This was a wonderful, thought-provoking book. It explores the ethics and issues of ownership of archaeological and cultural artifacts, including bodies and religious talismans. However, Childs goes one step further and also explores the ethics of excavation; whether we should do it at all, how and why. He makes his stance very clear, but also explores other opinions, in the end concluding that there is no magic right answer.

He doesn't address an issue which intrigues me, which is whether histor...more
I initially checked this book out to develop a deeper understanding of the process of archaeological plunder. I was writing an art history paper that was supposed to mostly revolve around the Parthenon and the "Elgin" Marbles, but I wanted to look at the broader issues at play and happened to stumble on this book while at the library.

It definitely became a bit repetitive, but it was a pretty enjoyable/easy read. It read a lot like a Mary Roach book, in my opinion- giving you a bit of a fly-on-th...more
I liked the idea of this, and found the details of the "wild west" archaeology underworld interesting, but as with a lot of nonfiction I felt like I knew where the story was going by halfway through the book.
Kind of misnomer to be on my "read" shelf since I couldn't finish it before it was due back at the library. Book was okay but he kind of had a holier than thou attitude and never really reconciled the benefits of studying other cultures through their artifacts and "digging" up those artifacts - actually reconciled isn't the right word, more like he just didn't really examine the issue in a thoughtful and complete way. He spent a lot of time on pot hunters, which is an easier conversation given w...more
Simone Lehmann
Childs explores the motivation and ethics behind archaeology and antiquity collecting, professional and amateur, and probably ends up widening a Pandora's box of fascinating issues by three or four inches. He is as consitent and devoted to his notion of the right thing to do with archaeological relics as it is possible to be, and his reverence of human artifacts is charming and touching. That there are no right answers is apparent, and the start of hours of pleasant contemplation of the curious...more
Kathy Cowley
This book reads like Indiana Jones meets creative nonfiction. It's an extremely persuasive book about the history of humans and how we should (or should not) treat it, that starts by saying that we probably all have our views on artifacts, but that his goal is to help you understand your view and its implications. (Ultimately though, it makes a strong argument about leaving artifacts alone.) I love how it dives into the lives of archaeologists, grave diggers, thieves, collectors, and curators, a...more
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CRAIG CHILDS is a commentator for NPR's Morning Edition, and his work has appeared in The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Men's Journal, Outside, The Sun, and Orion. He has won numerous awards including the 2011 Ellen Meloy Desert Writers Award, 2008 Rowell Award for the Art of Adventure, the 2007 Sigurd Olson Nature Writing Award, and the 2003 Spirit of the West Award for his body of work.
More about Craig Childs...
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“There are so many of us now that we threaten to devour the world with our touching, starting with the things we adore most. At the same time, we obviously yearn for contact, and I fear what would happen if we were cut off from a distinctive, on-the-ground relationship with the past.” 1 likes
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