Renfrew & Bahn, in their major publication "Archaeology: Theories, Methods, and Practice," define archaeology as "partly the discovery of the treasures of the past, partly the meticulous work of the scientific analyst, partly the exercise of the creative imagination" (2000:11).
Archaeology is more than hunting for relics; it's a discipline of anthropology that seeks to learn about humankind and its cultures through material remains. Carefully observing those remains within the context of the archaeological record, that is in situ, is of prime importance when studying cultural changes at a particular site. These are vital points for the Front Royal Town Council to consider in light of their present considerations of any request to hunt for artifacts (metal or otherwise) at the McKay Springs property.
Archaeological research should not be taken lightly. If someone studies a site and does not record careful observations based on context, which encompasses the stratigraphy, excavation details and presence of artifacts (which includes myriad forms from floral and fauna remains to potsherds and ceramic vessels to wood and metal fragments, etc), then there will be no benefit for the community.
There is more to finding "artifacts of value," a classification Front Royal Town Attorney Douglas W. Napier uses in a recent Northern Virginia Daily article, "Relic hunter asks to search McKay site," than for appraising and selling at auction. And if those esteemed artifacts are removed from their context without the benefit of intentional methods and careful notes, then a wealth of cultural knowledge is lost.
As "Field Methods in Archaeology" authors Thomas R. Hester, Harry J. Shafer and Kenneth L. Feder remind us, "The decisions archaeologists make with regard to sampling affect the quality of their data and the accuracy of their inferences and those of others who use the same database thereafter" (1997:40).
So I plead to the council members and to all in similar situations: consider carefully what course you take in allowing relic hunters to pilfer your historical sites. You will not get a second chance. Choose to conduct an archaeological investigation with the help of a professional archaeologist who provides proper methods, sampling and analysis, and do so before the looting happens on its own.
Sarah Kohrs, Mount Jackson