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Home / Articles / Opinion / Private Eye /  All the Marbles
Private Eye

All the Marbles

American Indian artifacts must not fall into the hands of profiteers.

By John Saltas
Posted // June 24,2009 -

Anyone who has previously read this column knows I’m quite proud of being Greek. They also know I’m not a full-blooded Greek, and that a fourth of my genes link me to the first Mormon pioneers to settle Utah via my great-great grandfather Matthew Caldwell, who was a member of the Mormon Battalion. As I’ve written before, he passed along a “good sense” gene, and one of his granddaughters, my grandmother, married a Greek immigrant. Actually, the genetic good sense to marry outside the flock may have come from Caldwell’s fifth wife, Nancy Lane. Either way, it worked out for me.

My grandmother never became Greek Orthodox, and my grandfather never became a Mormon. When the local Relief Society women would come by to visit my grandmother, my grandfather would simply withdraw to the kitchen and have a glass of wine. When my grandfather’s Greek friends would drop by, my grandmother would say something like, “I wish they’d speak English!” and go back to her crochet work. They stayed happily married for 63 years.

They lived in the house right behind us in Bingham Canyon. I used to love hearing their stories, she born in a log cabin (still standing) in Dry Fork, Utah, above Vernal; he, leaving his family behind in Crete at 17 and, after a month of travel, starting work in a Sunnyside coal mine his first day in Utah. She told me about her American Indian neighbors (in the impolite but accepted vernacular of the day, btw) and of growing up with few “white” neighbors. He told me about the Turkish “barbarians” who occupied his beloved Crete, and how his own father was a guerrilla fighter against them. She told me pioneer stories. He told me about Zeus and Minos.

Thanks to my grandmother, I developed a keen desire to learn about the West, and came to understand that, in her mind, the West began when her family arrived. Through my grandfather, I developed the understanding that Utah didn’t begin in 1847, and the Earth was more than 4,000 years old to boot. He spoke with pride about the ancient wonders of Greece—nearly none of which he ever saw—and in reverence about the cultural Greek legacies of democracy, medicine and philosophy. She spoke with equal pride and reverence about the travails of her own pioneer heritage.

So it is that I can fairly guess where they would land on the topic of digging of American Indian artifacts in southern Utah. In my grandmother’s world, the residents of Blanding were rightful settlers of the land, heirs to anything that land provided. They developed the town, brought commerce to the area and would be friendly to the natives there as long as the natives were friendly first. In her world, collecting artifacts would be a gainful hobby if not also a way to find additional income. She would, however, draw the line at grave desecration—she was a sentimentalist of the first order in that regard.

My grandfather, while no more simpatico with the American Indian culture than with the Mormon one, would nonetheless question the good of digging up any artifacts at all. As a witness to his own culture being robbed of not only its own relics but even of its cultural heroes, he would not want to see another culture plundered. The Crete he was born to in 1887 was under Turkish occupation. The Utah he moved to in 1906 revealed to him an occupation of another type and, in an uneasy way, caused him to consider if the shoe was on the other foot. If there was just one thing he respected most, it was honesty. An honest Indian was as good to him as an honest Greek—probably better, actually. If he knew that the American Indian were honestly aggrieved, he would be on that side.

And that’s the side I’m on. My grandfather would know what it feels like to have a piece of heritage taken away. While the flamers on local newspaper Websites are all wound up about the events that recently played out in Blanding, all pointing fingers, calling names and doing nothing, a very similar story is playing out on the world stage. In 1817, the Parthenon Marbles—2,500-year-old statues, plus a frieze that once adorned the Acropolis in Athens—were sold to the British Museum by Lord Elgin. He bought them from the Ottoman Turks who occupied Athens at that time for nearly nothing. His motive was to profit. He got his money and fame, too, for now the Parthenon Marbles are in the British Museum and are called the Elgin Marbles.

England thinks they are better stewards of those marbles than the Greeks. Many Utahns think they are better land stewards than native Utahns. Must be a British Isle thing. England claims the marbles belong to the world. Greece begs to differ. England says there is no place to properly display the marbles in Athens. That is not true. This past weekend, the new Acropolis Museum was opened to the public. Besides quickly gaining a spot as a world-class museum inside and out, a primary function of the new museum is to draw world attention to the Parthenon Marbles and for those marbles to be returned to the place Zeus intended.

There’s no Greek who cannot support the return of the Parthenon Marbles to Greece. Equally, there is no reason a Greek cannot support full protection of American Indian lands and of everything that resides on them. American Indian artifacts must not fall into the hands of profiteers; Greek artifacts must be taken from them. Mitts off American Indian property. Return the stolen Parthenon Marbles to Greece.

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REPLY TO THIS COMMENT
Posted // June 24,2009 at 16:48

In the words of one of my English friends, British museums are the largest crime scenes in the world. As the Brits looted and plundered under the guise of antiquities preservation, they robbed many of the world's developing countries of their rightful possessions and collective pasts.

The argument made is not illogical, really. Why trust low-or-no security native museums with priceless artifacts that will be either poorly handled and preserved or simply stolen with little effort. Hell, let the Brits steal them. At least they'll go to a good home, right?

There are countries, like Greece and Egypt, that have now established antiquities organzations and formats for preservation and security that have been lobbying thre Brits to give it all back.

What galls me about the recent Blanding story is the police chief who got on camera last week and referred to the looted objects as "trash and trinkets." It pisses me off he's breathing my air.

And, like those creepy Egyptian tomb curses, we apparently have a similar curse on ancient Indian objects right here in Utah.

Perhaps we need warning signs in Blanding:"Danger! Looting Indian Artifacts Will Cause You To Kill Yourself And Awaken US Senators From Their Slumber!"

 

 
 
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