An article in The Arizona Republic tells of the damage inflicted by vandals to the Keyhole Sink petroglyph site in the Kaibab National Forest east of Williams, AZ. This is unfortunately just the latest in a long series of attacks against archaeological heritage in the US. The same article provides a slide show of more examples in Arizona. Of course, the phenomenon is not limited to one country but is a plague festering all over the world albeit with some regions being targeted more due to antiquities market trends, e.g., Cambodia, Peru, Iraq, etc.
One of the major concerns with open access to archaeological field data is that it could lead to even more looting or vandalizing of archaeological sites than is already occurring, esp. regarding lesser-known or remote sites. Access to some location information probably needs to be tightly controlled for that reason. Still, is it realistic to keep such things “secret” for the longer duration? How does one evaluate people asking for that extra access to field data? Surely, it can’t be that only scholars from Ivy League universities and such still get it? How do we provide the opportunity for scholars of any stripe to double-check a colleague’s work by, for instance, inspecting the physical setting of a petroglyph site to formulate other theories? In the US, the park services on whose land many archaeological sites are situated are not convinced that further restrictions to access are effective. Maybe more community involvement and public education are the way to go? That way, potential looters/vandals would have to worry more about being noticed and reported to the authorities. The Arizona Site Stewards Volunteer Program is a good step in the right direction. Obviously, in countries such as Iraq looters are often well armed and numerous, a totally different and even more alarming situation.