It's LEGAL, but is this ETHICAL?

It's Time to Take A Stand!


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Perhaps we should all be grateful to Bob McWilliams and his pseudo-archaeological association, for clearly defining, once and for all,  what "looting" is.  McWilliams is doing so many things wrong in his approach to collecting artifacts that it's really difficult to know where to start in levying out criticism. But his signs! Oh my, just look at all those $$$$ symbols! McWilliams is admitting it out front: "I'm in it for the cash, the treasure!". This is repugnant, and should be labeled as such. BOYCOTT THE TAAA!

I feel I have every right to criticize McWilliams. All of us who seriously collect artifacts, and have a serious interest in the discipline of Archaeology, have got to see that the actions of this man and his phony Archaeological Association create considerable problems for everyone! McWilliams' actions not only illustrate his lack of interest in the finer details of a site's history, but they also are a smug slap in the face to all of us who seek more credibility with the pros, more chances to learn. McWilliams doesn't care what you think--- he's in it for the cash and he'll rape the land until there's no more sites to exploit. He thinks of all of you as greedy little bastards, and that no matter what you privately think of his methods, that you'll continue to show up at his digs. Is he correct???

Texas is its History.  Take away the rich, colorful history of Texas and what's left? Texas' history is what people the world around see in their minds when the name is mentioned!

And, Texas as one of the richest sources of archaeology in America, is one of the states most affected by intense development of rural lands. We, as public citizens, have the opportunity to be the eyes and ears of Archaeology in our state, and a chance to lead the country by creating good relations between the pros and ourselves and avoiding the need for prohibitive laws. Why, Texas? Because Texas landowners have stronger rights to their property than others across America.

Most landowners want to preserve this history--- they're proud of it-- and will destroy a site only unknowingly, or when they see what's there, will call someone in to investigate it. Most of the time they want archaeological resources to remain with their property. Indeed, when pros do a dig, landowners are surprised when the artifacts remain their property to do with as they please. Most landowners are not apprised of what Texas laws actually state. If they did, they'd realize that McWilliams, getting the plum artifacts, makes more money than they will, whereas if they'd had a pro dig on their land, they'd get them all! And the records created would make their asset more valuable over time.

But Texas landowners are a proud bunch, and they're feeling pinched right now--- development around large ranches raises property values, and thus, taxes and other overhead. So when McWilliams comes along, he's doling out a powerful temptation---- and one that many landowners cannot easily refuse

What's wrong with this temptation? After all, the buying and selling of artifacts is perfectly legal. Digging of any sort is also perfectly legal when performed on private land.

It's wrong because, practiced with the industrial efficiency of a backhoe, the land is raped of its history. McWilliams, if he were to do this with developers would be doing, perhaps, a good thing... mounting a massive campaign  to allow salvage archaeology! Even the pros might use a backhoe for salvage work. Recording sites during these salvage operations could add much information to the State Atlas--- if he were doing all this, I'd be praising the man!

But I'm not writing this to praise him. In fact, I'm going to emphatically tell all of you out there to BOYCOTT his digs and his phony Texas Amateur Archaeological Association. The TAAA does nothing that could be called Archaeology, not by any stretch of imagination!

Nearly 10 years ago, I contacted McWilliams and wrote an article for his magazine, Texas Cache. [He has since sold this magazine] I thought, at the time, that we had much in common. I believed that the State was heavy-handed in its dealings with collectors, most of whom I still believe are not just interested in the artifacts, but in the lifeways and histories of the people who made them. McWilliams seemed to agree and we made a pact to go political and to rally collectors to shift State policy and to eliminate the word "looting" as the prime definition of non-pro collecting.

He told me of his plans to start family-oriented digs... something I still believe in. But when he set it up, the costs turned out to be prohibitive for most families-- hell, he even charges if your kid comes along just to sit by the hole. It was obvious to me that the only ones who could afford this kind of dig were those who collected artifacts in order to sell them. He doesn't sell the "experience" of being on a historical site--- he sells the artifacts while they are still in the ground!

Then, McWilliams wrote an article espousing landowners rights, and within that essay, claimed that all artifacts, even those found in burials were a matter of private property, and that a landowner had full rights to burials, or anything else he might find. I was aghast! Sure it's all legal, but is this really an ethical stand to take? I backed away from McWilliams as fast as my legs could carry me.

Many Texas lands have pioneer cemeteries on them--- Can I brush away the flowers you left in mourning and dig up your grandfather for his pocket watch??? Sure I could! But would this be ethical? Would you hang out with me if I were to tell you about how I did such a thing?

We must realize, that as collectors, our actions will have a direct effect upon legislative actions. Texas landowners will never give up their rights, nor should they. So, it comes down to famous Texas common sense. We know what's wrong--- we know that little feeling we get in our gut when we do wrong things, but we're also great at rationalizing our actions. I've talked to many of you who have gone to McWilliams' digs, and to the man (woman too), there's always this feeling in their gut that what he's doing is repugnant and all about the cash, but still you support him with your funds. Your comments: "We want somewhere to dig, to find artifacts".

C'mon folks! Look around you! I've espoused communication with developers and landowners for a decade now. I have no trouble finding an range of places under threat to dig and you wouldn't either if you used your head! I'm always inviting you, free of charge, to help with digs in areas either under construction for housing, or on ranches where the rancher is digging stock tanks or building a barn, or clearing the land.... gimme a break! Use your wits!

Learning how to manage a controlled dig is the greatest thing to learn because then you multiply the places you can ethically dig. If you do it right, you get artifacts a-plenty (the deal you work out with the landowner is your business), and the State benefits from the information you collect. It's the best of both worlds because the landowner gets the benefit of having his land permanently recorded as an area where history took place! Happy landowners are good for everyone! It's actually 10x the fun to dig like a pro! And the relations with professionals are important! Do we want laws passed in Texas that would make all digging illegal??? It's happening all over the country! Washington, Illinois, Oregon, Missouri are all states that have passed laws not only regulating digging by amateurs, but also the possession of artifacts. Nearly every one I meet would like to be able to ask the pros questions, to acquire more knowledge about the ancients. Nearly all of you would like to be trusted enough to access information about land you are interested in investigating. This will not happen until we show more of the responsible side of our hobby. McWilliams will be used to pigeonhole us!

I say it again! BOYCOTT the TAAA! I don't care if you are an artifact dealer or collector. Bob McWilliams is a threat to us all!  Each and every time there's someone like him, who cares not a whit about the historical record, who tears up an ancient campsite knowing full well what's being destroyed--- we all suffer--- his image is the one that will be used to put us all down. We will all get lumped into the same category: LOOTER! 

Those who collect artifacts for their intrinsic value only, need to re-assess this concept. Like the diamond industry, artifacts are not in short supply. That $1000 Castroville you bought could be worth next to nothing should TARL or another entity dump the 1000s of Castrovilles they have into the marketplace-- this is called decommissioning, and it's happening all over the country as labs and museums run out of space for curation. Fact is, the State wants no more artifacts--- when you record sites, all that's required are pictures of the artifacts!

Which artifact would you buy: The one that came with impeccable credentials, showing to the centimeter where it was found and with what associations, or a Certificate of Authenticity (COA) from another collector who never stepped foot in the field where it was found?

Just how the heck are artifacts priced anyway? Collectors are largely being fooled all of the time! I mean, you are buying an artifact many times based solely on a Certificate of Authenticity based on nothing but an opinion! This stuns me. I've got a long history of dealing in the antiques business--- you'd be laughed away with such spurious evidence! Watch the Antiques Roadshow! I've seen COAs issued for artifacts I also saw made!

Collectors who buy artifacts should stop being fools and be more demanding in what they insist a seller provide as evidence of authenticity. Personally, I do not care if you sell an artifact if it's got all the data associated with it--- sooner or later, you are giving a researcher the chance, by purchasing the artifacts, to re-group collections from specific sites. And if you demand meticulous proof/data to create this environment, then more power to you-- I hope you get rich!

Professionals hate the artifact business! It's not that they truly do not think artifacts have intrinsic value--- it's that, artifacts, being commodities with high value, encourages folks to organize digs such as McWilliams'. But what if it encouraged controlled digging and the taking of real data that everyone could learn from?  What if no one bought artifacts without proof of this kind? Common sense will tell you that this initiative makes more sense than slinging invective around, calling the pros snobs while the pros call us all looters and vandals.

And the pros? Why are they not out there criticizing McWilliams openly? Why, when one man does something stupid, or out of ignorance, does the THC (Texas Historical Commission) come out with rhetorical guns blazing, but not one has yet come forward to publicly discriminate the difference between McWilliams startling industrialization of site rape against that solo man making a perhaps correctable, ignorant error?

It's up to us to make the difference! It's up to us to shut this down.

McWilliams is a self-confessed Looter. The Texas Amateur Archaeological Association has nothing to do with archaeology. What he's practicing is a load of crap and you all out there know it! His excuses for doing this are all about legality and have nothing to do with the truth: What he does is devoid of morality or ethics. If you, like I, am tired of being called a looter when the truth is that we are the heart and passion of where the discipline of archaeology comes from, then STOP GIVING THIS LOOTER YOUR MONEY--- START GIVING HIM YOUR DERISION FOR  MAKING THINGS HARDER FOR US ALL! 

Let's start showing the authorities that we have heart and that we have respect for the people whose possessions we work hard to find. Let's start showing the pros our tenacious curiosity, our desire to learn more! Let's start showing off our ethics! We are proud Texans--- let's start saving our history from people like Bob McWilliams.

Can you imagine what a pro would think watching a backhoe tear up a virgin site??? And to see folks they'd love to have volunteer to help study a site being destructive with one? I think you can understand that a pro works hard for the opportunity to study these places. To see one busted up wholesale by machines must break their hearts! It does mine, when I see one torn up by construction--- yours too-- I know because you all write to me and tell me so.

If things were better, pros might actually call us to help rescue what we can from a site they know they have no funds to dig, or in cases where there's no time for them to plan a more formal dig--- working with developers is the future for all amateurs! It's something very difficult for the pro world to do--- the political and fiscal problems are too great to work out without them first passing tough broad legislation.

Stop rationalizing and start boycotting! Stop this industrialization of site destruction in its tracks. If we do, we'll notice the difference. Pros and legislators will notice. Better relations would be on the horizon and I know you want this! When the STAA had a table at a recent Boerne Arrowhead show they were swamped with folks wanting to share their finds and get information! Archaeologists are swamped with crowds whenever they make an appearance.

I'm proud that collector support is the main intent of the Dirt Brothers. We're not archaeologists and we make no false claims to knowledge we do not have. Instead we are all fascinated by the topic, and the people who spend their time studying the topic. We want to be able to share what we know in an atmosphere of mutual respect. Thanks to you, Dirt Brothers and Sisters, we are starting to get some respect.... your questions are getting answered. We're getting invited to check out sites for landowners. Every day, some of you write to me asking to learn field techniques. I'm working hard to set up a full-time field school for you to participate in.

Show your power, folks, to stop what's wrong!!!! Take a stand! Tell McWilliams he's doing wrong by withholding the only reason for his actions--- Money ----- I say again: Boycott the TAAA.

I invite Bob McWilliams to engage in an open debate anytime, anywhere. I invite everyone who reads this to comment on it. I will publish every comment I receive on this website.

Email your comments to dirtbro@dirtbrothers,.org

What do you think?  For Reader Comments Click Here!

Here's some general comments about Ethics for you all to peruse (quoted from Wikipedia,com):

Ethics is a general term for what is often described as the "science (study) of morality"

In philosophy, ethical behavior is that which is "good" or "right." The Western tradition of ethics is sometimes called moral philosophy. This is one part of value theory (axiology) the other part is aesthetics one of the four major branches of philosophy, alongside metaphysics, epistemology, and logic.

Applied ethics or casuistry
Applied ethics applies common, normative ethics to specific controversial issues. Many of these ethical problems bear directly on public policy. For example, the following would be questions of applied ethics: "Is getting an abortion ever moral?"; "Is euthanasia ever moral?"; "What are the ethical underpinnings of affirmative action policies?"; "Do animals have rights?"

Without these questions there is no clear fulcrum on which to balance law, politics, and practice of arbitration in fact no common assumptions of all participants so the ability to formulate the questions are prior to rights balancing.

But not all questions studied in applied ethics concern public policy. For example: Is lying always wrong? If not, when is it permissible? The ability to make these ethical judgements is prior to any etiquette.

There are several sub-branches of applied ethics examining the ethical problems of different professions, such as business ethics, medical ethics, engineering ethics and legal ethics, while technology assessment and environmental assessment study the effects and implications of new technologies or projects on nature and society.

Each branch to characterize common issues and problems that arise in the ethical codes of the professions, and define their common responsibility to the public, e.g. to preserve its natural capital, or to obey some social expectations of honest dealings and disclosure.

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Reader's Comments About This Editorial

I've gotten lots of comments--- most one word or syllable in agreement with the ideas expressed, so I've not published them--- I will publish "letter to the editor" type comments as they come to me, pro or con,


TAAA Editorial Comment
   Date: Mon, 11 Apr 2005 12:42:27 -0600
   From: "Joe Trussell" <>

I saw this type of "collecting" start up in Central Texas around 1985 and in my opinion it is one of the main things that has tarnished a hobby that I followed for years, so much so that I quit collecting around 1988. Anyone has the right to make a living but let us at least call this for what it actually is ... "Artifact Mining "....

I recently got back into digging, after the children were grown and away at college and I had more free time, and I found that it is much harder to gain permission to collect than it was in 1970 through 1980. As long as you were polite and made sure you closed the landowners gates almost anyone would allow you to surface hunt and if you offered to restore the land to it's original state, that is fill in the holes, most would let you dig. That is not the case anymore, but when money gets involved things get more complicated.

I grew up on a farm/ranch and a landowner has every right to make as much money as possible off their property. However, when it comes to these "artifact mining" operations, in my opinion, and to put it bluntly, many landowners are getting screwed. The money they are paid does not equal the value of their site.

I dig, I really like to dig, but I am not going to be a "screen-monkey" and stand by a sifting screen as a backhoe piles dirt on and go through it like I am culling apples. it is easier that way but that is not why I love to collect. Uncovering an artifact, exposing it inch by inch, is so much more enjoyable than having someone toss one in your lap.

I guess I should end by saying that in the late 70's and into the 1980's  I was a classic "pot-holer", looter, whatever the proper term was at the time. I picked up a book by Thomas Hester called "Digging Into South Texas Pre-History" and that cast my hobby in an entirely different light.

Still love to dig, I just go about it differently.
joe trussell

arpa member - sdf public access unix system

        Fri, 22 Apr 2005 15:49:00 -0700 (PDT)
        kazmish kalajako <>

 You are on a 150.00$ a day dig site giving the relics you find to the land owner. What do you suppose he is going to do with them? You do this under the self promoting guise of a pseudo-archaeologist. The information you collect is redundant.

 A burial,if found, should be covered over and left alone much like the Leanderthal Lady. This does not always happen. Accept it. If some-one does disturb a grave the guilt is theirs. I think you would find a way to justify it though.

 If you know of all these possible dig sites share them. If I did not have to work for a living and had a woman supporting me I to might have the leisure time to stroll about the woods looking for possible sites. Not all collectors buy points. The collector/diggers that I know pursue this passion for the sheer adrenaline rush of un-covering a point that has been patiently waiting for you for thousands of years. I think all collectors understand the historic value of their relics. Some more so than others. Some only care about the monetary value. It is the nature of the beast. 

Not everyone on a TAAA site is a "Greedy Bastard". Some are physically incapable of hand digging. You would deny them the joy of being in the woods and laying their hands on relics of the past. Shame on

Speaking of greed ask the land-owner to give back the points you have found. If you wait a bit though you will find them on the market. At first I read your diatribe against TAAA as a joke, but you are serious. How sad.

I seriously doubt that you will post this response to your "editorial" that is all right. It is to bad that your limited wisdom and words do not line up.

"Gimme a break" and "Use your wits" is insulting. You are implying that you are so much more intelligent than the person you are addressing. I seriously doubt that you will post this reply to your "editorial". It does not serve you.

Bob's Response to this email:

First off, by this state's laws, as I state clearly in my editorial, what Randy or any landowner does with the artifacts is his or her business. However, he is an honorable man and has agreed to keep the data and artifacts together in a collection. The artifact business is not illegal and I have not stated anything in my editorial that would indicate a direct opposition to it. I do however, question how artifacts are priced and authenticated, and whether collectors true interests are best served by these methods, or better served by insisting on proper data collection methods for what they buy.

I'm not exactly sure how you can say what I will find is redundant, when-- #1 I haven't finished my work, and #2, Are you stating that you are an expert on what's out there? Because it sounds like you are the one who is promoting a "guise" of archaeological knowledge. I used to think the same thing about campsite information, until I started to ask questions!  I'm promoting exploring the topic precisely because I want to know what's there. I am anxious to explore the space the ancients lived in, because I appreciate the technology in what I've found.... And I've been promoting better relationships with professionals because they've spent their lives studying what you consider to be redundant... most people I meet at Arrowhead Shows want to know more---> when the STAA or other org shows up, they line up to ask questions, and I'm there with them. I enjoy pursuing that which I believe will keep me occupied for years learning everything I can. I get into plenty of hot debates with professionals and amateurs alike.

I know many more of those diggers you speak of than you, I think, because they're the same ones who get a bigger rush out of exposing a 5000 year old hearth.... something you just can't take home.  I think it's intelligent to question methods... I did this and have come to believe that with so many people developing controlled digging methods over so many years, that it makes sense, period. And I show others how to do it, and let them decide for themselves, but from doing it, not judging it on myths.

Burials should indeed be left alone. I'm not one who believes one should accept the desecration of human remains as you seem to suggest. If you read the section above on ethics, you'll see how absurd your comment is... the purpose of me writing this essay was to get folks to consider the ethics of what they do. I never said the folks who dug with McWilliams are greedy--- I said I believe McWilliams thinks they are! Read it again!! Thing is, I do share sites with folks whom I can trust--- there's that sticky ethics issue again. One point of the essay was to imply that if we worked with diligence at our interest in archaeology, we might one day gain the trust of those who have access to all of the information about our state's history. We need to do this because we, the public, are intelligent enough to know what to do with information given in trust.

The comments about my wife and the physically challenged were low blows, and not true anyway---> controlled digging operations are so easy that anyone of damn near any age or physical fitness can participate:  you see, it's a team effort. You'll note that one of my guests at 41KR21 clearly used a cane (it's leaning against the sifter) and she's eager to return to help again.

As to my wife, well, I guess she loves me enough after 28 years of marriage to, yup, support my ambitions to learn, even at my old age. You are right: How lucky I am. But what does this have to do with the topic at hand?

Investigating, following your interests is what you want to communicate to landowners--- approaching anyone with hunting arrowheads as the first contact won't work anymore--- it's a "taking" thing. Why not show interest and a desire to communicate the history of the land to the landowner firstly, focussing on what's to be learned? Most diggers' awe of the ancients is way more than just awe at their tools. Why not share your passion before wanting to get someone to let you take things away? Why not give something to the landowners they can be proud of? One interesting site is a potential lifetime of discoveries, just one. I get to roam Randy's place, and I find points he lets me keep... 

I would never ask Randy to give me those points we find in the formal units--- It's the landowner's right to determine the ultimate disposition of the artifacts. I'm honored that he is allowing me to do some real studies of his land's archaeological heritage, and that I've his trust. Whatever data we collect might be the only data collected about that campsite. Randy has personally done a lot of sifting and counted over 10,000 snails. I'll defend him to the end for his present actions. He is showing great interest and curiosity toward the work--- I don't care if he gets rich off of doing things right. Bob McWilliams, however, isn't doing anything to further knowledge in any way.  He's pissing off landowners and he's pissing off the pros. He's making it harder for everyone to pursue archaeology. Perhaps Randy has a conscience... he fully understands the ethics of digging the way he has been... this is a bit of payback before he sells his land. McWilliams isn't a stupid man, I know him, he knows what he's doing, too. Where's his payback to the community at-large? He's certainly not giving the landowners a good deal. The artifacts, along with the records of a controlled dig, are heirloom materials, to be cherished by a landowner's family, and worth much more than the fees paid to destroy the site.

I mentioned what I'd be doing if McWilliams used his wit and worked with developers and practiced rescue archaeology-- I'd be praising the fellow. I'm pleased that most of my personal collection is the result of rescue and salvage. I'll continue to dig fast and hardy when there's a dozer a-coming. I don't think most of the readers of the editorial thought I was being insulting to them --- I am challenging the Dirt Brothers and Sisters out there who really have a passion to think about where they invest their money and time relative to the ripple effect of their actions.

Lastly, if I didn't respect the intelligence of my site's visitors, why would I bother doing the Dirt Brothers at all? I don't make a living off of the membership or the website: Not that I wouldn't like to. I'm hoping that eventually I could open a place to teach people more about controlled excavation and how to keep good data, because it's interesting. I want to attend Grad school to get the schooling to do this and to try to begin to answer all of my questions. All of this because the people I've met through the website have inspired me and I'm working hard to return the favor. If I've insulted you, forgive me, but you really  missed the point of the entire exercise of free speech. I know this because you thought I wouldn't publish your email. Gimme a break: How sad.

Bob Wishoff
April 22, 2005

        "Randy Thomas" <>
        "TAAA Editorial Comment" <>

I enjoy your site.  I'm a surface picker, don't believe much in digging except in extreme cases where construction is involved.  I work in surveying and construction so I see lots of sites going away never to return.

Your efforts to find a balance in saving atifacts while recording a site's story is under-appreciated in our market society where property owners pass themselves off as stewards while really just wanting to sieze pieces of everyone's heritage for sale or trade.  By the way, the thought of buying or selling an artifact just seems to defeat the beauty of the hobby of walking the land and trying to see the way first people saw it without benefit of modern comfort and technology.

Randy Thomas

        Fri, 29 Apr 2005 19:20:55 +0000
        "jamie litzkow" <>

"Can you imagine what a pro would think watching a backhoe tear up a virgin 
site??? And to see folks they'd love to have volunteer to help study a site 
being destructive with one? I think you can understand that a pro works hard 
for the opportunity to study these places. To see one busted up wholesale by 
machines must break their hearts! It does mine, when I see one torn up by 
construction--- yours too-- I know because you all write to me and tell me 

Hey there!
Great website, I was surfing the internet for photographs of Paleoindian  lithics for a paper I am writing for my Paleoindian class and I bumped into the DirtBrothers webpage. 

As an undergraduate major in archaeology its nice to see that people out there other than my professors and fellow anthropology majors, who fully appreciate the real value of pre-historical/historical  artifacts.  It is true, as students and professionals we do work very hard ( four years into my eventual Masters) to get an opportunity to study these sites and assemblages in a scientific manner. 

It is very disheartening to think that people disregard the context of a site and sacrifice its historical value all for a couple of extra dollars. History is something we all have the right to as members of humanity, and these "looters" take that right away from all of us. Thank you for the informative and uplifting website. Its nice to see others out there fighting for the right to study the unknown.
~a fellow archaeology buff