Taft Kiser: The Problem with Relic Hunting

tags: NYT, archaeology, Taft Kiser, relic hunting



Taft Kiser, an archaeologist, is an author of the forthcoming book “Struggling in the Tide: Robert E. Lee’s Shirley Cousins.”

CHESTER, Va. — FOR archaeologists like me, the Flowerdew Hundred Plantation near Williamsburg, Va., is our Woodstock, a sentimental spot where dozens of professionals earned their trowels. The farm’s incredible archaeological wealth ranges from 12,000-year-old Native American tools to a tree that shaded Union soldiers in June 1864.

Imagine our dismay, then, when a professed “relic hunter” from Texas named Larry Cissna sold some $60,000 in tickets for his Grand National Relic Shootout — an artifact-hunting competition — at Flowerdew Hundred. The shootout took place in early March, and participants walked away with 8,961 artifacts dating from the Civil War or before.

In Virginia, as in many states, relic hunting is illegal on public land, but legal on private land. Flowerdew, it turns out, belongs to the James C. Justice Companies, whose chairman, president and chief executive is James C. Justice II, whom Forbes ranks as the 882nd-wealthiest individual on the planet. (According to a spokesman, Mr. Justice was unaware of the “shootout.”)...



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