Artifacts, Authenticity, Ethics...
Bloodlines...We do not claim to be the representatives of any particular ethnic group or members of any particular tribal association. We make products of styles found primarily in the Americas, Europe, and Asia. Our craftsmen have ancestors that include European, Native American, and Asian peoples, but our genes are so mixed up that you would be silly to purchase our products on ethnic or genetic grounds.
Most of our prehistoric and historic replicas are of styles so basic and ancient that no one could claim them as their own designs. Our products are not sold as copies of any specific pieces, even though because of our attention to detail they are far more authentically excellent than most replicas. Our goods are decorator and collector items that appear to be old.
There are some who take offense at the ease with which some of our products could be offered as real artifacts since much of our work is carefully made to look authentically ancient. No one should lie, but since some people do, it is important to know something about the field of play in collecting artifacts.
Who really cares?? There are generally several groups of people concerned with commercially available artifacts and replicas:
There is the community of collectors of (hopefully) actual artifacts, some of whom spend large sums on scraps of history and understandably wish to protect and increase their monetary investment.
There are dealers. As with anything else in commerce, there are honest, reputable brokers of antiquities, there are unscrupulous dealers who know they’re selling fakes, and probably most commonly, the sales in the gray-area in-between.
Another group is the archaeological and academic community. The best perspective on the entire subject of commerce in artifacts can likely be had by understanding what an archaeologist knows, or can know, about items once they enter the stream of commerce. To an archaeologist an artifact without provenience, a verifiable source and context, is just a trinket, and once money is involved, nothing is verifiable. It may be ancient, or it may be new. It may be from an early phase on an ancient site, or it may have been dropped by a traveler last week, last month or last century. No one really knows about the finding but the finder, and depending on your location, a few dollars can incite some people to say anything they think a buyer would like to hear.
Finally, native peoples’ cultural legacy and claim to their ancestors’ possessions is an issue that has gained cultural sensitivity and is protected by federal law.
Without provenience, an artifact cannot be proven to be related to any particular site or archaeological project. In fact, it can be almost impossible to prove anything about an artifact without context. Your word or your grandfather's claims are only a story without some hard documentation. Even a photograph of the item in the ground is easy to fake. But an item without provenience can still be interesting, worthy of some study, and eagerly sought by looters, casual diggers, wealthy collectors, the occasional government agency, or tribal group.
Who owns artifacts?? Looters and casual diggers generally think they have the right to trespass and destroy archaeological sites to steal relics and artifacts and buying collectors tend to think they have the right to own these items based on their monetary status and the high interest for commerce in these items. Governments tend to think they always owned these items and depending on the circumstances, they often do. As of 1990, native peoples and tribes can request to repatriate many types of funerary and cultural items from museums and all federal agencies via the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. Finally, there is the landowner, who is the rightful owner of historic items if the government or tribal groups don’t qualify to claim an object.
Archaeologists mostly attempt to discourage any commerce in artifacts because they understand that those who participate in the trade encourage the destruction of archaeological sites. Generally, Native Americans would prefer graves to be respected and sacred lands to go unmolested. Otherwise, governments probably own most of the items that governments choose to say they own; the dealer wants to make a profit; the collector is probably a nice guy who just wishes to enjoy fun acquisitions, even though the goods are very often from questionable sources.
Unfortunately, the market in middle ranged antiquities is rank with fakes whose value does not justify exhaustive tests to prove authenticity, but which can be bought and sold for a profit. It is very important for the prospective buyer to realize that a colorful story is the easiest part of a fake to manufacture, as it requires no special skills. This has probably been the case since the invention of the spoken word, and it will probably continue to be the case even if capital punishment were to be imposed for the sale of artifacts.
The bottom line is, "let the buyer beware”. If you think an item is aesthetically pleasing and worth the price, you can feel safe about a purchase--there are no better gauges of value. But please think carefully before spending a lot of money on an item because you think it’s an authentic artifact or consider the item an investment.
The good side of fakes in the marketplace...It is important to understand that it is largely the presence of fakes in the market that makes artifact values as low as they are. Without the lingering question of authenticity, artifacts would be as eagerly sought after as rare coins and values would be sky high, encouraging the plundering of sites that archaeologists rightly fear. It is bad enough already.
Trade in the trinkets of history and prehistory is thriving as it satisfies a basic human desire for something interesting and unique. It is certainly no less legitimate than the sale of tobacco, fattening junk foods, or airbrushed photos of nude beauties, and in some circles, it is far more respectable than these higher-paying accepted vices.
At Native Way, we don't take sides in the fakes vs. artifacts controversy. What we can promise is a good value for your dollar in fine replicas, collectibles, and decorator items. We would actually like to think of ourselves as agents in the travel industry…time travel.