Beyond what most people think about archaeologywith its cleanly numbered dates, and discoverieslies a vibrant and controversial realm of scientists, thieves, and contested land claims. Now, in TRESPASS, Childs explores the field's transgressions against the cultures it tries to preserve and pauses to ask: To whom does the past belong? Written in his trademark lyrical style, this riveting book carries readers directly into his adventures and discoveries, lifting the curtain on the ethical dilemmas and dark side of archaeology. It is a book about man and nature, remnants and memory, a dashing tale of crime and detection. In other words, this is a ghost story.
Childs (The Animal Dialogues) intermingles personal experiences as a desert ecologist and adventurer with a journalistic look at scientists, collectors, museum officials, and pot hunters to explore what should happen to ancient artifacts. Questioning whether artifacts should be left in place, Childs argues that although surface surveys and electronic imaging permit study of buried objects without digging, that reliance on technology risks the loss of the "physical connection to the memory of ancient people." Yet he mourns the loss of context that comes from removing, say, the Temple of Dendur from its natural environment. On the other hand, he scrutinizes the "stewardship" of past archeologists who removed sacred objects when "o one thought indigenous cultures would survive to start demanding their things back," returns now required by U.S. law. Childs is critical of museum facilities inadequate to protect items that archeologists removed from their sites precisely to preserve them from destruction. He is also unhappy with the legal sale of relics to collectors, which he believes led to "more digging and smuggling." His own "collection" consists of finds he has left in place across the Southwest. But, he says, artifacts that cannot safely be left in place should go to museums. This is an engaging and thought-provoking look at one of the art and artifacts' world's most heated debates. (Aug.)