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Finders Keepers: A Tale of Archaeological Plunder and Obsession

3.87  ·  Rating details ·  1,082 ratings  ·  182 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
ebook, 155 pages
Published August 25th 2010 by Little, Brown and Company (first published January 1st 2010)
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Hannah Greendale
Dec 26, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: adult, non-fiction
Childs explores the ethics of looting artifacts, examines the role of archeologists and museum curators, explains the black market for antiquities, and shares some of his greatest moments of discovery in the wild. His account is clearly biased, hinging on his romanticized view of how found-artifacts should be handled, but he provides interesting arguments to support his views (and even calls himself out for being contradictory, at times). Finders Keepers is a passionate account of inward and out ...more
Jun 10, 2015 rated it it was ok
I had high hopes for this book about archaeology, but I found it to be muddled and poorly written, and I quickly lost interest. I abandoned it after a few chapters. You may like it more.

Introductory Quotes
"This book is about the underbelly of archaeology, from both a personal and a global perspective. It is a firsthand exploration into the many reasons we loot. To loot is to freely take something that is not yours. There are night diggers pillaging tombs and rioters with bats and crowbars pourin
Jul 05, 2014 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
You can't please everyone. In retrospect there was probably no way that I, a formally trained archaeologist, archaeological conservator, and museologist, would like this book. But I was thinking this would at least be a rational look at the underbelly of antiquities and the thrill and obsession that often accompanies it. That would be a book worth reading.
Childs is on the periphery of understanding. He's picked up some lessons during his travels and applies them across the board. Sometimes he ge
Feb 05, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
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
Mar 03, 2017 rated it really liked it
Craig Childs is an expert in finding relics like potsherds, shrines, arrowheads, and tapestries. This book is about the underbelly of archaeology, from both a personal and a global perspective. It tries to explain why people loot treasures they find and also explain why that is wrong. Most of the action takes place in south central Arizona where a group of men took high school students from Los Angeles into the desert, The company they worked for paid seventy-five dollars a day. They taught basi ...more
Jul 12, 2017 rated it really liked it
This was fascinating and thought provoking, and an enjoyable read. Not too long, not too heavy, with a strong focus on the American Southwest where the author has extensive experience.

I had never really considered the ethics of archaeology and the collection and trading of artifacts and antiquities and how complex these issues really are. I thought I knew what's right and what's wrong, but I really hadn't given it adequate thought. The author has his own opinions, but speaks to people on every
Dec 25, 2011 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
Sep 13, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: archaeology
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
Nov 13, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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.
Oct 26, 2010 rated it did not like it
I want to find this idiot, cover him to his neck in a shell midden and leave him exposed to the elements.

If there was a star for "Jesus Christ, I can't believe someone published this," I would have clicked on it.
Jun 19, 2017 rated it really liked it
This is an interesting book on the history and ethics of professional and amateur archaeologist.
Oct 26, 2010 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Mar 15, 2015 rated it liked it
This book is essentially one long personal rumination on the ethics of archaeology, of artefact preservation and collection, the role of museum curators, archaeologists, dealers and collectors in both preserving and destroying the archaeological record, depending on which side of the ethical fence you fall on. It's an interesting moral dilemma, one I'm not sure I've fully come to a conclusion on, even at the end of this book.

Childs argues that in removing artefacts from their locations we are lo
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
May 27, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Sep 08, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
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
Paul Kinzer
Feb 07, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This was a very well written story of one mans journey to find the answer to what should be done with archaeological artifacts. Through personal experience while hiking through the U.S. Southwest (and other places around the world) seeking ruins, and discussions with archaeologists, collectors, and looters, he finds a multi-faceted answer, quite at odds with itself. If you have an even passing interest in archaeology, you'll find this a fascinating read. Even though I was on a plane with little ...more
William Graney
Aug 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Craig Childs is becoming one of my favorite authors.
Oct 17, 2017 rated it really liked it
I thoroughly enjoyed reading Childs entertaining, informative, provocative tales of archeological sites “plundered,” “looted,” and artifacts removed (or not), preserved, stored, sold, displayed in museums, held for private display. He portrays well the deeply felt emotions and the ethical positions taken by many who seek, find, collect, and even simply learn and enjoy from the work of those others. He “had me” from his introduction and my engagement continued through innumerable tales of artifac ...more
Aug 01, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
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
Apr 19, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
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?
Aug 31, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2018
Craig Child's books are always a great read- insightful, thought-provoking and poetic in his bond with nature. In this particular book, he asks the question: who do archeological finds belong to? A political, a scientific and a moral question. Many degreed archeologists have uncovered the remnants of a prior civilization - and given/sold them to universities and museums. However, these museums are seldom in the country of their finding. Should these countries be given back their ancestory - the ...more
Jan 09, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Nov 06, 2014 rated it really liked it
What is humanity’s responsibility to the things our ancestors have left behind? What is more virtuous – stockpiling the world’s artistic and archaeological treasures in miles of climate-controlled underground warehouses? Hording away sometimes illegally-sourced, mainly disparate collections in private homes? Or maybe documenting and then leaving them in situ for future generations to discover? And who deserves our disdain? The pothunter hobbyists out for a weekend stroll? The private collectors ...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
Sep 18, 2011 rated it really liked it
"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
Waverly Fitzgerald
Aug 13, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
I loved everything about this book. Virtuoso writing--sentences that swerve and twist with the subjects they describe. A nuanced and multi-faceted view of archaeological artifacts--whether they belong in museums, in the hands of private collectors, left alone. Craig Childs has been finding fabulous artifacts in the Southwest desert he loves for years and it's clear his inclination is to leave them in situ. But in this book he interviews private collectors, museum curators, pot diggers, archaeolo ...more
Sep 23, 2018 rated it really liked it
An interesting introduction to the ethics of archaeology. I love collecting fossils, I think it is so exciting to have stuff that is usually in a museum, I thought it amazing when I first found out you were actually allowed to own them. I live in Australia & not much archaeology is to be found lying around & a lot was destroyed (like stone huts) to continue the myth of terra nullis or it was taken by the British to their fancy museum overseas. There was actually an Aboriginal artifact exhibition ...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

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