20 Feb 2018

The Man Who Planted a Tree

I once connected on Twitter with April Hawkins, an archivist at the Royal Ontario Museum. I often employ the RHB Code networking strategy and so I asked her about her biggest challenge.

Dr. Hawkins responded “It would be transforming interest about ancient/historic objects into ethical curation.” That caught my ear as 3rd gear intention is sometimes interpreted as an ethical mindset. The concept of ethics and archeology is a real issue worldwide as there is a massive industry dealing with stolen and counterfeit artifacts. Even Amazon and eBay have recently come under scrutiny for illegal sales of antiquities.

Her response reminded me about a time I went scuba diving with Harold Dunne back in the 1990s. We were diving in a small creek in Carlton Place, Ontario when Harold surfaced with a beautiful spear-tip grasped in his wetsuit mitt. We both examined the finely crafted object. It was long and slender, still quite sharp and about 6 inches long. You could tell it had been handcrafted long ago by a master craftsman.
“What are you going to do with it Harold?” I inquired.

“I don’t know, maybe I’ll keep it in my basement or put it on the wall at my office.”

“Harold, can I offer a suggestion? If you do that, it will sooner or later get thrown out. I know an archeologist who works for the Museum of Civilization. Dave Keenleyside might be able to identify it for you.”

“Will he confiscate it?” Harold asked.

“I doubt it, but at least we will know a little more about its history.”

To his credit, Harold brought the spear-tip to the museum. Dave identified it as an Adena spear-tip and then explained that the object itself wasn’t valuable but it’s context was. “It is named after a distinctive Early Woodland group of people who lived between 800-300 BC and who were located in central and southern Ohio as well as nearby areas of Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Kentucky, and Indiana” he told us. “I have never seen one found this far north. If I had seen it in a garage sale, I would have assumed it was purchased during a trip to the USA. And it really wouldn’t be worth much as a point of scientific interest. But the fact you personally discovered it in a local creek means that either these people lived farther north than we realized or they were employing some sophisticated and extensive trade routes.”

Harold decided to donate the spear-tip to the Museum and was given a beautiful hand-painted fiberglass replica mounted on a plaque. The museum also sent a few archeologists to the spot to see if any other items could be located.

There’s an ancient Greek expression, “society grows great when old men plant trees under whose shade they will never sit.” Harold passed away in 2007 but I know his 3rd gear-ethical decision helped society grow a little greater. Thanks Harold for planting a tree.

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