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Are We Digging Up Too Much Stuff To Handle?

  1. Jul 19, 2015 #1
    It seems to me there is a news story almost every day concerning some important find from the past, be it a primordial fossil or a Viking sword.

    From various sources I've read, it seems to me the bulk of museum collections are masses and masses of undisplayed storage: there just isn't space to properly put it on view.

    The more we dig up, the worse this will get. The human race seems to be suffering from a hoarding instinct. Indeed, anything over 20 years old is now labeled "vintage" and is asserted to have some value to collectors.

    What is to be done?
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 19, 2015 #2
    Just marketing blah for collectors of stuff getting on your nerves I expect.
    Sure if you dig up something interesting though, better to keep it somewhere (or sell it if it's not too rare) than leave it in the ground.
  4. Jul 19, 2015 #3


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    Ever helped clear out someone's attic? Full of "perfectly good' junk that no one wants, and no one will throw away ---- "Let's hang on to that, Xxxxx might want it/It's brand new/It might be worth something someday."

    Anything useful has been worn out and scrapped/incinerated, hence the antique shops full of "bait" for "American Pickers."
  5. Jul 19, 2015 #4
    I've a bagfull of no longer useful audio equipment leads. another one full of old main-to-DC power supplies that I can't remember what they were for.
    Yeah, those can go in the skip.

    Probably will end up in landfill and become discovered by a future archeologist.
  6. Jul 19, 2015 #5


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    No! I might be able to use them!
  7. Jul 19, 2015 #6


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    Many breakthroughs in anthropology and archaeology are due to items that were forgotten in the basement of some museum, found a hundred years or more later and then recognized how important it is.

    Same thing goes for police cold cases. cases that were unsolved or falsely accused 20-30 years ago are now being solved due to finding old evidence in storage that was thought to be useless.
  8. Jul 19, 2015 #7
    No idea on archeological finds...I'm in paleontology

    You ask a good question, but not an issue in paleontology.

    99% of fossil are not dug up but surface collected. Also 99.999% are nothing to do with display purposes...but research. I've collected thousands of specimens over the years and none of them have anything to do with museums.

    20 years from now? An example...A researcher will want access to drawers of original Syringopora corals so he can do some biostratigraphy study of a layer of the Tournaisian in the Lower Carboniferous. He will need originals...he may want to do thin sections, etc. He may want to compare curated collections from three or four sources...one may be in he USGS, one from a university in China, one from the GSC, etc.
    If doing a paper, he will also need his own specimens properly curated...these may be accessed by another researcher a hundred years from now.

    There are not overflowing hordes of fossil specimens. If a museum is properly run then they have an approved system of curation. Everything properly catalogued. Again, the vast, vast majority of collections are never meant to be viewed.

    The 'real' issue is proper management of fossil collections. Does a university have funding, trained curators? Cutbacks in the USGS...are catalogues kept current? Where's what? Etc.
  9. Jul 20, 2015 #8
    This is certainly part of what I meant by "to handle." The collection of specimens and artifacts seems to proceed in excess of our ability to process them and put them in perspective.

    What got me pondering this was the revelation in a History Channel show about ancient Egypt that there are scores and scores of tombs they've discovered in which nothing is buried but mummified animals. These are considered very low in importance, despite being 3000 years old + -, and yet they have to be managed and protected: looters would be happy to procure and sell ancient Egyptian mummified ravens on Ebay, and they have to prevent people from going into them because they are dangerous, subject to cave-ins. Basically all they can do is put iron gates locked with padlocks on these tombs and hope no one breaks in.

    Another example is the La Brea Tar Pits: there's no end to them. And, it's an extremely time consuming and labor intensive thing to pull those bones out and clean them up for academic inspection. For every large, interesting animal there's a thousand little rodents and birds.

    When I lived in the upper Midwest years back a woman told me about a farmer she knew who had a sackful of arrowheads and spearpoints. He routinely found them over the years when he plowed his fields. Could be there was a pre-Columbian village on his land for centuries that's unknown to historians. Same thing: it seems there's no end of ancient history. At what point do we become exhausted?
  10. Jul 25, 2015 #9
    OK, so you expect archaeologists to know before digging whether the stuff that they would find would be worth showing in museum or not? ;)
  11. Jul 25, 2015 #10
    So do you have a sackful of arrowheads? I only have 4 arroheads. They take up less space than my shoe polish. Your concept of lots of stuff needs perspective. I doubt if a thousandth of a thousandth of houses, garages, buildings are taken up storing archeological and paleo finds. Way more space is taken up storing underwear and socks.
  12. Jul 26, 2015 #11
    I'm having a hard time replying to this because the notion that all buildings can be considered potential storage space for archeological and paleo finds to be really weird. And you can't really consider a sack of arrowheads in some farmer's barn to be proper handling of such artifacts.
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