Should looters of ancient artifacts go to jail?

Archeology

Hershel Shanks, editor of the Biblical Archeology Review, poses a hypothetical scenario that raises pressing questions about the current state of the antiquities market:

Imagine a young Bedouin looter exploring one of the hundreds of complicated and dangerous caves in the Judean Desert by the Dead Sea. He discovers an extraordinary ancient gold artifact with a Hebrew inscription referring to King Solomon.

One of the Israeli antiquities dealers who sees it reports it to the authorities, who quickly trace it to the young Bedouin and seize it from him. It is displayed in the Israel Museum, which has to remain open until midnight to accommodate the crowds. It is an international sensation. The New York Times sends two of its most knowledgeable reporters to write the story.

The young Bedouin looter is arrested by the authorities and tried for looting and sentenced to two years in prison. The gold inscription soon comes to be regarded as Israel’s most valuable ancient inscription.

This of course is a thoroughly fictional account. But it does bear some resemblances to a real occurrence—something that is reported in the Archaeological Views column of this very issue of BAR.

What makes me feel the need to explore the situation is the fact that the looters alert the archaeologists to the existence of the other valuable finds in the cave and get sent to jail for it, while the archaeologists learn from the looters where to dig.

There are thousands of caves in the Judean Desert. They are large and twisting and dangerous. They have produced archaeological riches beyond avarice. Yet for some reason they cannot all be located and explored. They are often accidentally explored—sometimes by looters. When the looters are caught, they are jailed—instead of congratulated—for the find. Somehow it doesn’t seem right. But somehow I am pretty sure I am wrong. Maybe an archaeologist can explain why to me.

The primary problem Shanks is identifying relates to property. As I have mentioned in an earlier blog post, many countries with sizable yet undiscovered archeological artifacts have effectively nationalized their ownership to the state. While archeologists can receive permission from a government to perform digs, the price signals that could indicate their relative significance have been effectively elminated. As a result, the state treats knowledgeable locals as criminals, while their “crimes” provide clues to archeologists on where to dig next.

What both antiquities-rich nations, and the archeologists that work there, currently do not recognize is there would be a wide range of benefits if people were able to own land that held artifacts. Through the price system, property owners would be incentivized to hold and develop land believed to hold valuable objects. Archeologists could work peacefully with these landowners to obtain rights to perform digs on their land that could lead to obtaining valuable historical information. Finally, the local people would benefit because they could help landowners and archeologists with valuable services.

Unfortunately, both governments and scientists would have to be open to learn about how markets work before they would be open to such liberalization.

Nevertheless, one can always hope, right?

 

 

Algebra as a civil rights issue doesn’t add up

A social justice clown, masquerading himself as a college administrator, has once again attempted to characterize common sense as a violation of civil rights.

In this case, the chancellor of California’s community colleges believes that the requirement for college students to take algebra should be abolished.

Because it’s hard.

The chancellor of California’s community college system said he wants to abolish the college algebra requirement and called it a “civil rights issue” in a Wednesday interview.

Eloy Ortiz Oakley, chancellor of California Community Colleges, made the argument while speaking with NPR. (But of course. ed.) He pegged algebra as overly burdensome due to the disproportionate rate at which it prevents students from graduating from community colleges; nearly 50 percent of community college students do not complete their math requirement.

“This is a civil rights issue, but this is also something that plagues all Americans — particularly low-income Americans,” said Oakley. “If you think about all the underemployed or unemployed Americans in this country who cannot connect to a job in this economy — which is unforgiving of those students who don’t have a credential — the biggest barrier for them is this algebra requirement. It’s what has kept them from achieving a credential.”

The chancellor said that other higher education institutions, such as the Carnegie Foundation and the University of Texas, were pondering the change. He suggested that statistics could replace algebra as a new requirement.

However, Oakley’s characterization about Carnegie’s position isn’t entirely accurate. In fact, it has developed tools to help community college students take, and pass, required math classes because public high schools have failed them.

Traditionally, only 5% of the 13 million community college students enrolled in developmental mathematics courses earn college level credit within one year. This high rate of failure cannot simply be attributed to a single source, such as poor curriculum materials or disengaged students, but the entire system. After analyzing the entire system that produces the traditional results and recognizing the key drivers of failure, the [network of educators established by Carnegie] created a system to address the problems across the system.

It ought to shock public high school principals that they are sending such outrageously unprepared students to community colleges. After all, those students are receiving a diploma with their school’s name on it!

However, rather than working with high schools (and their feeder schools) to help them prepare their students for what they ought to expect at community colleges, Oakley is prancing around as if the students’ lack of success is indicative of the injustices of the system! (Raise fist.)Oakley is no more an educator than I am a swimsuit model. (Trust me.) The Board of Governors of California Community Colleges ought to be embarrassed that Mr. Oakley is the chancellor.