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MUSEUM ARTIFACTS DON’T BELONG IN TOILETS

museum artifacts

Restroom Fail in Portland

If you have something worthy of a museum artifacts collection, keep it safe.

A museum joke that bears repeating:

This is George Washington’s hatchet he used to chop down the cherry tree. The handle’s been replaced six time, the head four, but it represents the same space.

Funny stuff. I think it came from Saturday Night Live.

Having your name attached to a museum artifact is a bragging point. It comes when you donate something a museum finds worthy of research, storage, and exhibit.

It makes you a bigger deal than you were before making a museum donation, if you like that sort of thing.

This is a story when it relates to the Oregon militants over in Burns, Oregon.

Those out of state folks came to Oregon to make a stand, to show how wrong the federal government is about land management.

That was the story, wasn’t it? The main point?

It’s easy to lose track of the main point when the crew started rummaging through native artifact storage to show boxes of  stone age gear.

The now deceased spokesman for the group led a camera crew of respectful militants into the racks of artifacts to show how badly they are stored.

The New York Daily News even picked up the story along with video.

As an expert on museum storage with twenty hands-on years, here’s what I saw: objects bagged and tagged and put on the archival pile for future processing as time and money allows.

That’s how it works. Every museum in the world has back-log. It’s not an excuse, just a fact of life.

Since the native pieces were projectile points, and mortars and pestals, they are very hardy. If they were baskets or bags, storage would be a bigger issue, but stone pieces don’t degrade as fast.

Fragile museum artifacts need a climate controlled environment with regular monitoring of temperature and humidity for preservation. Rocks, not so much.

In either case the first fault of anyone handling museum artifacts is ignoring human contamination. The unschooled and inexperienced have little sense of preservation.

By their actions with native artifacts, the Oregon militants were both unschooled and inexperienced.

Wearing white gloves matter.

Then they showed how little regard they had for the native lands with this story.

From buzzfeed.com:

“They’re driving with impunity, and just flat out not giving a crap where they drive, dig, scoop or build,” Jason Holm, a spokesman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service told BuzzFeed News. “There’s an immense threat to items in places that are irreplaceable to the culture.”

Taking not giving a crap to whole ‘nother level, investigators revealed they had dug latrine trenches into sacred sites.

You read it right. After complaining about artifact storage, they took a huge dump on artifact sites.

That’s not good for anyone. Even white gloves don’t feel right.

What’s the big deal about native artifacts? During a seminar at UO’s Museum of Natural and Cultural History the presenter kept referring to sacred sites in White Sands, New Mexico.

I asked if White Sands was near the missile range, and what happens to sacred objects after they’ve been blown to dust?

Turns out a sacred site is sacred in spite of the number of missiles tested. Call it customs and traditions that don’t change.

Native sites are protected from people called pot hunters, grave robbers, and Oregon militants, people doing one thing in order to do another.

For example, a raider goes camping. He sets up his tent without a ground cover. Inside the tent he digs for native artifacts, taking the dirt out like Andy Dufresne in Shawshank Redemption.

It’s a bad deal, but worse than taking a dump on history? Museum artifacts deserve better.

Woody Guthrie had it right when he sang, “This land is your land, this land is my land.”

He didn’t mention anything about taking a crap all over it.

No museum guy wants to catalog an object with a provenance that includes, “found in slit trench of human feces.”

There might be specific nomenclature for the site, but pass the rubber gloves before you pick up that collection.

About David Gillaspie

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