The Problems of "Black Archaeology" in Estonia/"Musta Arheoloogia" Probleemid Eestis

By Ulst, Ingrid | Estonian Journal of Archaeology, December 2010 | Go to article overview

The Problems of "Black Archaeology" in Estonia/"Musta Arheoloogia" Probleemid Eestis


Ulst, Ingrid, Estonian Journal of Archaeology


Introduction

In recent years Estonian archaeological sites have faced several cases of looting. Unfortunately only a very limited number of these cases have ended up in legal proceedings and yet, the solutions of these cases have not been helpful from the perspective of the protection of archaeological sites. For example, the illegal excavation of medieval coins in the surroundings of Keila in 2004 resulted in the payment of finding fees to the persons who actually had carried out a destruction of an archaeological monument and who, on that basis, should have paid fines to the state instead of receiving any fees. Such precedent allows concluding that laws which should have functioned and state authorities that should have implemented the laws, were at some point unsuccessful. Next to the legal side, it is important to consider ethical, social and economic aspects. The looters of Keila coin hoard have been the key players also in other cases, acting rather self-confidently with their clearly material focus and constantly testing the boundaries of legal and illegal behavior. The self-justification and effrontery of looters have been occasionally increased by the false images created in the media. Thus, general public does not often perceive the actual contents, extent and legal boundaries of the activity of looters (let us call them "treasure hunters"). All this facilitates looting and makes it more difficult to apply laws efficiently.

This article addresses the protection of archaeological finds and the problems of "black archaeology" in Estonia, seeking to analyze, on the basis of three major looting cases (the hoards of Lauritsamae, Keila and Ubina), the problems deriving from legal regulation, ethical conflicts and economic interests with regard to the protection of archaeological heritage and its preservation on site. The three cases have been chosen for the analysis because these represent the only considerable case law with regard to "black archaeology" in Estonia. The issue is very topical because the failure in legal proceedings and the favorable attitude of media have contributed to the adventurous reputation of treasure hunters. The awareness of people about who can work on excavation sites, which technologies treasure hunters use and how adequately they operate, remains low. Also, the majority of people often think in material categories, without understanding why the objects in the surface are important in the first place. The article seeks to raise a discussion on whether the respective problems of "black archaeology" could have been avoided and develop ideas on whether and how it would be possible to enhance the protection of archaeological heritage in Estonia.

Definition of a archeological heritage and "black archaeology"

To analyze the issues related to the protection of archaeological heritage, it is important to start by defining "black archaeology". The activity of treasure hunters is usually called "black archaeology". Obviously, the term refers to the unlawful ("black") nature of the business of treasure hunters but this is just one element and does not explain the actual meaning of the activity called "black archaeology". Providing a suitable all-encompassing definition of "black archaeology" is not an easy task. The key to its definition seems to lie in the term "archaeology" itself. According to the Council of British Archaeology:

   Archaeology is the study of the material remains and environmental
   effects of human behaviour: evidence which can range from buried
   cities to microscopic organisms and covers all periods from the
   origins of humans millions of years ago to the remains of 20th and
   21st century industry and warfare. It provides us with the only
   source of information about many aspects of our development.
   Milestones such as the beginning of agriculture, the origin of towns,
   or the discovery of metals, can only be understood through the
   examination of physical evidence. … 

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