Here in Cuzco, I live with a family of civil engineers. The father of the house is a civil engineer, and his two college-age sons are both studying to become the same. So a favorite Sunday activity for the family is to hop in the car, drive out to whatever project the father is currently working on, and talk shop.
A few weeks ago I tagged along on one of these trips, to a bridge being repaired a few hours out of town. I was zoning out during a conversation about different types of sand when the older son plucked an object off the ground, gave it to me, and said “Here Chris, a gift!”
He passed me the piece of pottery pictured above. “It must be Inca,” the group determined.
“Thanks,” I said. “But shouldn’t this be in a museum or something?”
Their response basically amounted to “Yeah probably, but whatever.” I guess it’s uncommon but not unheard-of to turn up something like this on a construction site.
So now I have to decide what to do with the thing.
Obviously, I’m tempted to keep it. It’s totally illegal to leave the country with such relics, though I would likely get away with it. But I don’t want to be that asshole foreigner, and if TV has taught me anything, it’s that hogging ancient artifacts can have serious karmic consequences.
I could turn it in to a museum, but most around here already have tons and tons of intact ceramics that don’t even get displayed.
I could climb to the top of a mountain and leave it there, or make some other act of homage to the people who made and used this object 500 years ago. But I would hate for that to just be an opportunity for another asshole foreigner to find it and keep it for themselves.
Or I could hang on to it and “be a good steward” of the artifact, as my historian dad proposed. I’d make careful note of where the object came from and try to use it to promote the culture of its creators. And plus, the fact that it was a gift from a Peruvian should dispel the jinxes that might otherwise come with keeping it.
This blog post is a step in the “stewardship” direction, but I’m interested in hearing your creative ideas or judgmental rebukes as well. What do you think?
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