Correspondence with Mark Denton

Most of us all like Mark Denton.... he's a nice guy. Mark comes across a genuinely interested in his chosen field and seems to enjoy working with the collecting public. Personally, I believe Mark likes Steve.

Is this a case of professional survival? I feel it's only fair to present Mark's point-of-view to you for you to evaluate. Weigh all the alternatives, and email us..... we want to create a forum. I include my correspondence as well, to articulate my opinion on the topic.

Bob Wishoff, webmaster

Artifacts found eroding out of the Ashley site, found by Steve Ashley. Steve has always agreed to give the State these artifacts, which include a corner tang knife and a multitude of points most of us would love to find!
My first letter to Mark:

At 05:13 PM 11/19/2002 -0600, you wrote:
>Hello Mark,
>I just wanted to write to you about the recent developments with regard
>to the Ashley site and the now-famous biface.
>It is so discouraging to me! I understand the general law and its
>rationale with regard to finds on public property. I also understand
>that the intent of the law is to catch the scofflaws and true looters
>who pillage public property on a regular basis. Steve Ashley did the
>right thing.... Steve Ashley is the rare kind of person who is shear
>dreamer, who writes poetically of the search for history along Walnut
>Creek. He's no looter.... indeed, letting Steve be conservator of the
>biface, found by chance, would do more to encourage others to report
>finds, than any single act the state could take legally.
>You and others who face an uphill battle against general progress
>destroying sites faster than you could possibly study them, are actually
>kindred souls to most of us collectors/laymen, who, discovering we have
>this interest, do what we can to assist you. Myself, I try to rescue
>what I can from places like quarries and subdivisions... I keep what
>data I can, and understand the basic value of knowing what was there.
>I'm always turning people on to what I find an all consuming interest. I
>draw in collectors and direct them toward documentation, and
>organisations such as the STAA. Dr. Hester is even getting me closer to
>having enough courage to submit an article to La Tierra.
>The state needs to take more positive actions with regard to people like
>Steve. I know park rangers who are frustrated because they would like to
>get documentation from visitors who find things.... he knows that it is
>a natural action to pick up an arrowhead found while walking around...
>his bosses will not let him actively gather that data because it would
>seem to condone the finds... how absurd!... so he just gets to watch
>sites wash away, like the rest of the public!  We have eyes! We have
>minds! We want to see artifacts... they make us wonder and want more
>information. I have seen a child look hold an arrowhead, and at times I
>am that child.
>Surface finds are of no real value to the science, except as signature
>pointers to the existence of sites.. Steve would do more good possessing
>the artifact than the State: he would now have the focal piece to
>develop a course curriculum around the life and history of Walnut Creek,
>a place he's studied and wandered for years. He will draw more interest
>to the field of Archaeology than the negative publicity and friction
>that is developing. Simply put, he's a damn good salesman for the field.
>To take away this metaphor of awe from this gentle man is an egregious
>mistake. He surely will never find anything as beautiful again in his
>life--- to him it is an inspiring message from an ancient master of a
>craft Steve also aspires to master and a history he longs to know more
>about. Steve admires professionals.... he's like a lot of us who can now
>see another path we could have taken.... There are lots of us comrades
>to Steve.... you could never buy what we collect... we're always lending
>out books.
>What will be lost here is trust. What will be created here is a
>keep-it-to-yourself mentality, or one that certainly will encourage
>under-reporting of finds. I can only repeat my frustration at where this
>debacle will end.
>Laws are flexible entities that are always reformulated by challenge. We
>create courtroom drama to reemphasize the point that while a law is
>broadly defined that it can also be interpreted differently in
>individual situations.  I think we need to prosecute true looters and
>negotiate with the good guys. I am appealing to you for sanity's sake to
>find a positive solution to this and to not bring the full force of
>literal law upon Steve. Why not take this time to iron out new
>guidelines designed to forge better and more open relationships with
>members of the public? There are interested thousands of us out there...
>Bob Wishoff

Mark's response:

Date: Mon, 25 Nov 2002 09:46:31 -0600
From: "Mark H. Denton" <>
To: "Bob Wishoff--" <>

I appreciate your concerns and for the most part I agree. However, Steve's
desire to help preserve the site and "do the right thing" is also in
conflict with his personal desire to generate as much publicity about the
site and "his find" as possible. This action created great danger for the
site and generated large amounts of loud vocal concern from the
professional archeological community over the mere rumor that "... the
Texas Historical Commission was going to allow Ashley to keep the
artifacts." As I have total Steve, "if you want publicity, you've got to be
prepared to accept both the positive and negative results of that action"
and he if he wants to be accepted by professionals as an equal in the quest
for the protection and preservation of our state's public archeological
resources, then he also has to accept the concept that "we" (ethical
amateur and professional archeologists) do not keep the artifacts we find
as our own personal possessions. Any artifacts recovered from either public
or private land, regardless of whether they may have been recovered from
the surface or not, should not be considered your own personal property, or
the line between looters and ethical archeologists becomes non-existent
regardless of how well the site is documented.

My Response:

Dear Mark, 

Thanks for your response. I do believe Steve's enthusiasm was what came  across in the news story---- I believe his story was meant to inspire others to do the same reporting of sites to the State that he did.... I recall the story emphasizing Steve's lack of desire for selling artifacts and his love for Walnut Creek. I saw the news pieces as being a good thing for relations between the public and professionals. As to endangering the site, Steve knew that people were indeed finding the site.... his comments to the city have resulted in locked chains across roads offering easy access. He also complained to the city about trash and such that was being dumped in the area.  Why is it that only professionals should show their finds to the public?????  Publicity is good for the science! It keeps the topic high in the public's mind and perhaps might get more funding into a grossly underfunded sector! 

I don't want to get into too many details, but quite a few artifacts, while not being called personal possessions, are in more-or-less constant possession of certain professionals. I'd say 95 percent of all pros have collections, and most all avocationals possess extensive collections. This whole debacle over possession is set to come to a head---- overall, this means bad things for everyone. Again, if you want sites reported properly to the authorities, and you want help documenting sites on private property that are going under the dozer, then changes to laws must be made.  Once data has been collected about an artifact, what good is it to science??? I say that these artifacts draw attention to the science, and draw people into the science. 

I'm rescuing hundreds of artifacts from under a bulldozer right now--- you'd rather that they were destroyed for a golf course than collected by amateurs????? I think not if you were to reply from the heart.... I get help in these rescues because I publicize my efforts... otherwise much would be lost. I know this isn't true science, but I plan on registering the site after rescue work is done so at least we'll know what was there and what kind of site was there before construction. And this development is thorough, blading the ground down to baserock... so there's none of that "protection under the concrete" argument that I hear so much from pros when there's nothing else they can say. Hey, I know you feel real pain when a site is lost... and so do I. I get frustrated because I can't research sites BEFORE construction begins... by the time I was told about the site most of it had been bladed away....  but fears of looting keep honest folks from doing what you pros are not allowed, and
so sites are destroyed everyday.... 

There still exists this mentality that collectors are out to loot the State of its heritage when in fact most collectors want more people to have an interest in what's below their feet. I, for one, am proud to know Steve---- he's an example of how the public should act. He's got the soul of a poet and the eyes of a scientist. We need more people like him out roaming the creeks of Texas. I don't believe he's trying to be seen as an equal to pros! I believe he's just following his interests, and that his interest
overlaps those of pros. Like all responsible members of the public he wants public property taken care of----> he simply pointed out the site to you. 

I must add that with all of this brouhaha about his possession of the piece, the condition of the Ashley site has been forgotten.... Other than Steve's actions taken with the city, I've been to the site and nothing has been done to protect the banks from eroding away... the very spot he showed you where the biface fell out is still falling apart and thus risks more data to be lost. This is very frustrating and is similar to the story of a mound I found in Grelle Park that was being used for boat launching----
nothing was ever done to alleviate the problem. I was treated as some looter when I called..... more questioning about what I may have toted away, little action on taking care of the problem. 

I think you've made it difficult for folks to reason out why they should report information to you. Giving folks like Steve a little positive publicity shouldn't be a problem. The State need to take more effort to protect the site rather than to try to hide its existence. No one has tried to dig the mound in Grelle I have shown the public on many occasions--- in fact, it took my publishing pictures of the mound before any inquiry was made, and still nothing has changed--- the mound is still unprotected.
When it is out of the water it is still being used as an impromptu boat launch. 

We (pros and interested amateurs/collectors/avocationalists) are not and should not be fighting each other!!!! There are true looters out there and we need to stop them! More people may know about the site, but people like Steve are also out there chasing away the looters! Until the State understands this, the push to find and document sites is somewhat doomed..... 

Thank you again for your correspondence, 
Bob Wishoff

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