I like hanging around junk shops as much as anyone, in fact more than most, if my new Monkey-Darwin-Skull office lamp is anything to go by. Very occasionally will I see a local archaeological artifact in one of these shops. However, my colleague at my day job (yes I have a job, honest), Dr. Brian Thom, sent me some pictures and an account of his encounter with a very large collection of Coast Salish artifacts. And they’re for sale.
Now, Brian may have the most magnificent Star Trek memorabilia collection to sit squarely atop the 49th parallel, but no sites were harmed in his collecting behaviour. The law around the ownership and sale of ancient artifacts in B.C. is regrettably unclear (as was hashed out in the fractious comments of this previous blog post and here too: 1, 2, 3). As I note lower down, below Brian’s comments, some of the clearest direction on this front comes not from the Act, but from recent public statements from BC Archaeology Branch director Justine Batten. It’s always tempting to write some huge essay when I’m trying to figure something out, but it’d be better to let Brian kick things off. His commentary and links are below, reproduced with his permission.
“I would not doubt the owners claim that Granny and Grumpa’s is the largest antique store in British Columbia. Driving through the Fraser Valley farm roads to 37936 Wells Line Road just outside Abbotsford, you come to a constellation of colourfully decorated barns and out-buildings [here, in Street View https://goo.gl/maps/4KFkS]. Grumpa, a fellow in his 80s, greets visitors personally before sending you to wander, literally for hours, through his incredibly dense collection of antiques and collectibles. The entire history of Canada is represented in these buildings, from horse drawn carriages to farm implements, fishing tackle and forestry safety gear, dolls to china cups, bottles and bibles, and many many parts of our agricultural settler material culture. Part of the local Tourism Board’s Circle Farm Tour [LINK] and blogged about by funkyjunkinteriors.net [LINK] and others, this place has treasures for anyone who comes in. There are no prices on anything, but everything is for sale. Talk to Grumpy to make an an offer, cash and carry.
“In the best-organized and well apportioned of the buildings are three glass cases. Inside is a huge collection of stone, bone and antler artifacts from a time long pre-dating the agricultural settlement. [see photos here https://goo.gl/photos/PJ1Hr2n5v4utgBE17]. Projectile points of every description, adzes, sinker stones, incised mallet stones, hand mauls, unilaterally barbed harpoon tips, even a zoomorphic stone bowl are in these cases of hundred of archaeological objects. Clearly many of the artifacts are familiar from local materials, styles and technologies. The farm is only 1500m from the Sumas First Nation’s reserve land, and is near the edge of the former Sumas Lake. Of course, not everything in the warehouse store of antiques are from Grumpy’s personal collection, so some almost certainly come from elsewhere (and indeed a few look to be more recent fabrications).
“Grumpy and his wife had to leave for a funeral before I could speak with them about the collection. How much would these sell for and to who, is a conversation needed to be had. Clearly though, in spite of our (ambiguous) legislation and dialogues about respectful repatriation, there continues to be a market place for archaeologically acquired artifacts in British Columbia.”
Back to me now. I’ll just put it simply: I don’t think it is right to offer these artifacts for sale. it encourages a market in these items, which encourages looting. The artifacts arguably belong legally to the Crown, and morally to the First Nations. A number of the artifacts pictured here very likely come from graves.
It’s not clear to me on what basis this trade is tolerated. As I noted above, we can turn to some recent comments from Justine Batten regarding other cases. For example, in the 2010 case (PDF) of a Duncan-area artifact dealer:
Provincial archaeology experts [in British Columbia, Canada] aren’t happy with people who traffic in native artifacts. The problem, says the director of the provincial archaeology branch, is what people might do in order to acquire the artifacts in the first place.
Justine Batten’s comments follow questions about the branch’s contact with Howard Roloff, a Duncan-based dealer and expert in native artifacts. “We have indicated to Mr. [Howard] Roloff that creating a market for these items does encourage looting of sites,” said Batten in comments provided via email. “…. We have strongly advised him to halt such transactions,” she continued.
The sites referred to by Batten are locations protected through the province’s Heritage Conservation Act or from burial sites.“While a sale per se is not illegal it is contrary to the legislation to remove heritage objects from heritage sites postdating 1846 or from burial places,” says Batten. “It is also a breach of the legislation to remove from BC heritage objects so protected.”
Batten clearly asserts that “a sale per se is not illegal” yet continues that it is “contrary to the legislation”. She’s a lawyer, so I assume this makes legal sense.
The second comments on the record stem from a few years ago when a CBC reality show attempted to sell a seated human figure bowl (in the end, the stone bowl was not featured on the show). In response to this controversy, a ministry spokesman said (PDF),
“The archeology branch is concerned that offering such items for sale, and attaching a monetary value to them, will promote illegal collection of artifacts and illegal excavations in protected archeological sites,” said a ministry spokesman. “We are therefore respectfully requesting that this item not be offered at auction.” [emphasis added].
So, merely “requesting”, suggesting their power is neutered. Batten is directly quoted further in the article,
“Branch director Justine Batten said the timelines associated with the bowl — found before the act was put in place [1996? – ed.] — limit what can be done. “The province’s only option would be to designate the bowl as a provincial heritage object, which would preclude the object from leaving the province but not from being sold. However, this artifact is not considered a good candidate for designation because the owners are unwilling.” [emphasis added]
So my reading of all this is that, while it is illegal to remove artifacts from sites (it “alters” the sites), if you did this long enough ago, then regardless of the fact you may be de facto in possession of stolen property, you are free to sell it, but respectfully discouraged from doing so. The government could designate your object, but would prefer it if you are willing to go along with that procedure. Is this right? I don’t see anything in the Act which supports or contradicts this position, and it’s my best summary of ministry statements. But then, that’s what lawyers are for, not mere pyjama-clad bloggers guzzling Malbec.
Anyway, I know there are knowledgeable people out there reading this who can set me straight on whether Grumpy is legally cool to sell his collection. Fill me in in the comments below.