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The Seed Jar

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(Photo Credit: Regan Choi)

Craig Childs, Regan Choi, and Dirk Vaughan used to spend months in the isolated backcountry of the Southwestern U.S. One day, they stumbled across a rare and ancient piece of pottery, in almost mint condition. That discovery led to an argument, and a decision, that has stayed with them for 11 years. When we got obsessed with the consequences of that choice, we cajoled them into going back to the place it went down, with producer Molly Webster in tow. What they found was not what anyone expected.

Guests:

Craig Childs, Regan Choi and Dirk Vaughan

Produced by:

Molly Webster

Comments [30]

My enjoyment of this great segment was marred by one thing.
To, like, echo a few other comments here ... I, like, think Molly Webster should, like, never be permitted to, like, speak on any broadcast because of her inability to, like, communicate in the English language. Anyone who, like, punctuates every sentence with, like, unnecessary usage of the word 'like'(it was, like, 40 times in just several minutes!) is, like, not trained for a job requiring verbal skills. The comment by Michael from Arizona in which he described listening to her delivery as, "I'm in, like, a Starbuck's where, like, some high school sophomore ...", was like, right-on-point. And I might add, Jad Abumrad has the same nasty habit, though not quite as bad.

Dec. 04 2014 03:39 PM
Valarya

Michael from Arizona hit the nail on the head. This episode was a TRAINwreck and I stopped being able to even hear what producer Molly was saying due to, like, her totally inability to, like, articulate a single sentence without, like, like like like like like.

Oct. 03 2014 09:22 AM
Eileen P

I was not able to get into the cosmic wowness of the search for the pot eleven years later. I was too busy worrying about the children left in the care of an eleven year old in he middle of a scary-hostile environment. Call me boring, but that did not seem wise.

Sep. 29 2014 12:38 AM
Gwen from Tucson, AZ

I find the fact that the cliff took the pot is so satisfying. They were gifted with the interlude with the seedpot that was perhaps left there as a sacred offering, or in prayer. That the cliff took it and protected it makes me think that there was something very powerful that happened there...and I am so happy that they have this wonderful story to share

Sep. 28 2014 05:55 PM

Here's what I would have done (though after listening to live outtakes from their arduous climb to return to the place after 11 years I realize it might not have been possible to do without breaking it): I'd have packed the seed jar out with the greatest of care, and after careful inquiry, I'd have put it in the hands of a museum or society.

I also approve of their decision to leave it where it was. But it's probably not what I'd have done.

Sep. 28 2014 01:29 PM
Jeff from Memphis

Really wanted them to find it!

Sep. 28 2014 11:14 AM
J from Miami

One of the reasons I left a career in archaeology was that I grew tired, and not a little ashamed, of destroying the very things that interested me so much in the first place. Excavating archaeological sites and artifacts, like looting them, is a destructive act. And the sorry truth is that many, if not most, of the artifacts that are dug up by archaeologists and looters alike are never subjected to scientific analysis. They sit on shelves or in boxes and might as well have been left in the ground for all the good they do us. The real value of the seed pot was its context. The thing that would have meant the most to me, had I been the one to find it, was that it was still where its original owner/maker left it so long ago. To know that there are still things like the seed pot that remain untouched after many centuries, albeit now presumably crushed to bits, is immensely satisfying to me. Of course, any archaeologist who says they are not also thrilled by "the thing" is a liar.

Sep. 27 2014 09:44 PM
Jeremias from Idaho

I listened to this story with a growing sense of dread as the characters quibbled over whether to take the “seed jar” from public land. To my great relief, they initially decided not to and were deprived of a second chance, but this story sorely lacked any serious discussion of the ethical or legal ramifications of looting.

Archaeological materials are a finite, public resource and in the US are often our only source of knowledge regarding the history of many Native American groups prior to European contact. Most of the information that can be gleaned from an archaeological site comes not from the artifacts themselves, but from their context and associations with other materials. Removal of artifacts from their original context without proper documentation by trained archaeologists destroys most of the information contained in the artifacts, transforming them from pieces of history into mere commodities or trinkets.

Relic collecting – even by well-meaning tourists who think they are “rescuing” materials from professional looters – is one of the most destructive activities decimating our nation’s cultural heritage.

It is also illegal.

Under the Archaeological Resources Protection Act of 1979 (ARPA), unauthorized removal of destruction of archaeological materials on public land may carry a penalty of up to $20,000 in fines and one year in prison – for first-time offenders.

The producers’ failure to consider and discuss the ethical and legal ramifications of taking the “seed jar” from public land is irresponsible and potentially destructive. Their apparent ignorance of the law is inexcusable. As journalists, it is their responsibility to research and note the legal ramifications of any activities carried out in the production of a story. I expect better from Radiolab.

I am glad only that the three friends ultimately made the right decision and chose to leave the pot where they found it. If they had taken it, I would have wished for their speedy prosecution.

Sep. 27 2014 08:53 PM
Anna Edmondson from Oakland, CA

Fun story, rough around the edges, but thought provoking. I wouldn't have taken the pot. I find it hard to believe they'd remember the exact location 11 years later given they were stoned, I mean really. But then, that didn't matter. And yes, what about the kids? Things (physically touchable or only remembered) are the talisman's for stories, regardless of where they (the things) end up.

Sep. 27 2014 05:08 PM
Susan B

Loved your story. When you said 'let it go'at the end of the story to just let go of the idea of getting or finding the pot, it made me think of a song written by my fiance Peter Blachley (peterblachley.com), called Love Is Eternal which he wrote for his sister whose husband passed away and the chorus repeats "Let it go, let it go, let it fly with your soul..."
I think you can hear it here from his dropbox. It's not published yet, but will be soon. Hope you like it and it helps heal those who lose something precious.

https://www.dropbox.com/s/dg2kgjq1zjsjv6a/02_Love_Is_Eternal_TH.mp3?dl=0

p.s. the great Willie Nile sings on this cut.

Sep. 27 2014 03:08 PM
Amy D from Winter Park, FL

One thing that occurred to me, that was not addressed in this episode of "things," was the perspective of empathy with the "thing." While listening to the seed jar segment, I of course asked myself what I would do. I would so have taken it for my own, for two reasons:

1) I tend to anthropomorphize things. I would have thought like the seed jar, that is screaming, "YAYYYYY!! I've been sitting here for 700 LONG years and now someone has finally found me and can take me away from this eternity of boredom! Please, take me, please please please, let me continue a more interesting story." So to not take it would have been more heartbreaking for me and would seem disrespectful to the thing. Let it continue its story. Juat because the story happens to be with me now is not a bad thing. It's not like I was not supposed to be there. I matter as much as the person who put it there. It's like respecting the thing and the person who put it there to let it continue its story with me now. Now that no one took it, there's no way anyone will ever be able to take it. So its story is either over because it's been crushed into dust, or because it's been buried intact with no hope of ever being rescued. No more potential. End of story.

2) I would trust myself to take care of it more than I would trust someone else who might come along, and more than nature, which as we know probably totally destroyed it. I would totally have taken it and treasured it and babied it.

So, just another point of view about "things." :)

Sep. 19 2014 12:17 PM
T Hall from South Lake Tahoe

Nice broadcast, and as expected, Nature gets the upper hand and the last word. Nothing is guaranteed and the pot goes back to its origins..clay and dust. My only complaint is that Craig should have narrated the entire thing because Molly likes to say uh, like, uh and sounds like a not so well read teenager. Thanks for this one. I love Craig Childs, his sense of adventure and loyalty to those beautiful wild places. Why be sad that the seed pot was destroyed. The seed pot was a man made object; destined to return to nature one day. Regan has the right idea "it's not irony at all". You can't be the owner of the seed pot. Just its memory.

Aug. 23 2014 12:12 PM
Dick Summers from Museum

Possibilities:

1) They like didn't find the spot again b/c they were stoned before, during and like after.
2) They didn't find it intentionally b/c it makes good radio.
3) I took the bowl five years ago.

Aug. 04 2014 02:37 PM
Jeff Jacobs from Knoxville, TN

There seems to be an unarticulated assumption that Craig and Dirk are somehow outside of the "natural" history of this object. An erroneous belief that some alternate future existed for this jar that was what was "really supposed to happen". Nonsense! Craig and Dirk are every bit a part of the story, not deities or judges outside of time and nature. And nonsense to those who claim "it should have been reported to the authorities and put in a museum". How do you know the 'should' and the 'supposed to'? The seed jar gave at least 3 people a huge, life-impacting experience, and it's memory reunited two best friends after 11 years. What's more powerful than love and friendship? I also love that the end was neither of the two alternatives everyone considered: discovered or still there. It was a third and unforseen alternative that is rife with symbolic power of its own.

Aug. 03 2014 05:05 PM
michael from Arizona

Radiolab's jumpy, one-person-talking-over-the-next editing style makes me physically uncomfortable--I sometimes find myself actually grinding my teeth before I turn it off. Still I will occasionally try to listen, because the program tackles some intrigueing subject matter.

That was the case with "The Seed Jar". I've spent a fair amount of time in the world it attempts to illuminate in this segment. But … like … how much sloppy reportage masquerading as faux-hipness and annoyingly casual radioland banter do I have to endure to hear such a simple--and potentially powerful--story?

Like, for instance, when producer Molly Webster started to talk. I keep thinking, like, I'm not in the redrock of Utah, I'm in, like, a Starbuck's where, like, some high school sophomore sucking on her iced Aspartame-laced quadruple latte, starts telling me about the time she and some of her friends did something really cool: they went somewhere way gnarly in the desert. Really, they did. And it was like, truly cool. You'd never really go there, unless, like, you were doing a cool radio story. It was that cool. From the moment Molly unzipped her sleeping bag that morning, it was, like, these people are really cool. And when Craig Childs was, like, the seed jar is GONE, I was like, amazed. But after about the 25th time Molly was, like, totally inarticulate? So was I. try a llittle harder, Radiolab.

Jun. 07 2014 11:22 AM
L'eve it Alone from Ocatillo

This is the way the world ends, this is the way the world ends, not with a bang, but the immutable blessing of gravity. Gate gate, para gate, parasamgate, bodhi svaha: Gone, gone, gone to the Other Shore, attained the Other Shore having never left. I love being reminded of how tiny we are.

Jun. 06 2014 02:17 AM
Kevin McAleer

Have you thought about looking at historical aerial photos to confirm the date of the rock slide?

Jun. 05 2014 10:13 AM
sean from Cincinnati

Adore, Adore Radiolab. But "the seed Jar" was so bad it could be the funniest thing I have listened to in ages!. Stoners in painted deserts looking for seed pots..and RadioLab trying to string an emotional element to people who have not seen each other in 11 years....not their strongest work. The whole image of stoners wondering in a desert with a clearly out of shape Radiolab reporter was hillarious..a trainwreck so awesome to watch......yes I will be pilloried for this, but for the love of god..the flute playing, stoners, reporters from New York, hippy children left in canyons with James Franco....I was howling. Again this is the most brilliant show on Radio. Thanks Guys...

Jun. 05 2014 08:02 AM
Alan from Burbank, California

For me the ending of the story affirmed what my impulse would have been on finding the seed jar -- that it belonged in a museum from the moment they found it. The lesson I drew is that it takes human eyes and hands to imbue an object with value. To the forces of nature, a clay pot is just a lump of dust and ashes. It only has a story if we are there to tell it.

Jun. 04 2014 05:21 AM
Merry


I feel so much better now about how upset I became in a similar situation. I was working in the foothills of CA and found a mortar hole in a rock outcrop, which was common in that area, and then a pedestal, which wasn't. The pedestal was stuck a crack firm enough that I think it had been placed there. It the humanity of the placement that stopped me, I could see someone spending a long day grinding acorns, standing up and stretching before they moved on, and wedging it in the crack so it couldn't roll away. Maybe they’d never been there before, maybe they’d done that for years. Maybe they’d seen family member place that stone right there when little, and they did it without a thought.

And then they never came back.

When my coworker saw me staring he said “Hey, I bet that will fit in the hole!” and started to pick it up. I screamed at him louder then I should have. The pedestal was returned, but I was so mad at him for ending the moment.

Anyway great story, thank you.

Jun. 03 2014 06:12 PM
Esli from Eugene, Oregon

That ending with the people destroying their past was depressing.... Thanks radio Lab

Jun. 02 2014 07:16 PM
Bob Smith from South Carolina

Meant to add this in my earlier comment (which I think was on the main page, not on this one):

I wonder what would've happened if you guys had found the pot (which is basically the dilemma they faced the first time they encountered it.)

I'm guessing the first thing you would've done would be to try to retrieve it and bring it back to the lab to get a "scan" of it so you could create and sell replicas of it. And then what? Put the original in a museum, have the original group debate about who gets to keep it, try to put it back where it came from? At that point, it's already been "disturbed", so it can never really go back to how it was.

Maybe the landslide was the best possible outcome in this case after all.

Jun. 02 2014 05:16 PM
QuesterMark from 32° 45′ 26.49″ N, 97° 19′ 59.45″ W

When I first heard the story on the podcast this morning, I thought about ancient peoples geocaching. Since there'd be no GPS, that makes it more like letterboxing.

And when they guys decided NOT to touch it, I though, well, they won't ever see the log book. But there could be an important message in there left for people who would come later! And they didn't get it.

**Spoiler alert!**

And then when they found out they lost it, I thought, a secret will forever STAY secret now!

And then I thought, I wonder if the cliff collapsed the moment they made the decision to return to see if it was still there...

Jun. 02 2014 04:49 PM
Annie

I agree with Holly S. I think that the rockslide was the best outcome. I was nervous about them going back to the pot because each visit risked the possibility that someone else would find out about it.

Jun. 02 2014 03:36 PM

amazing story.

and if you haven't already, go read any of Childs' great books.

such a powerful storyteller and naturalist.

Jun. 02 2014 10:30 AM

I took the "almost killed one of our producers" part seriously until the end when I realized he was kidding. Wow! LOL

Jun. 01 2014 11:07 PM
JoeD from Utah

That was a powerful and thought provoking piece. On one level thinking of the initial dilemna whether to take the seed jar. That alone is subject for much discussion. Then to ponder the emotions upon discovering the jar had been consumed by nature itself. There is a lot of meat to that segment if one thinks about it. Well done, Radio Lab.

Jun. 01 2014 10:55 PM
NickMLK

Geez... Imagine how many little structures of humankind just blink in and out... and imagine who gets to see them!

Jun. 01 2014 12:53 AM

Is it horrible I loved the ending? The mountain takes the pot, and it stays part of its own story. Except I hate that they didn't show them with the kids again - what if they got scared? Or sunburns? Or bored (and thus likely to do stupid things)? Maybe my own children are just wimps.

May. 31 2014 10:05 PM
Rj Garn from nm

Totally absorbing! Wonderful broadcast...

May. 31 2014 08:28 PM

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