So, I’ve been somewhat lax in my blogging recently (must be December!). I claim distraction by multiple sets of shiny objects – and I’m not talking about Christmas decorations.
Down to business – in class last week a question was posed. What is the way forward for archaeological ethics? Are there concrete steps we can take? No sitting on the fence answers allowed.
It seems to me that the term “archaeological ethics” covers questions of access and dissemination of material (who should have it and how much should they have?), protection of sites and questions of ownership. It’s about claims and responsibilities. What “archaeological ethics” seems to come down to, at the end of the day, is a balancing act. Balancing the claims of several different parties and coming out with the best compromise possible. In each individual case – whether we are questioning the location of the Elgin Marbles, arguing over the study of human remains or debating whether looting and collection are intrinsically linked – I think it is actually important at the end of the day to accept that there isn’t a single “right” answer.
This may seem like I AM sitting on the fence. I’d argue that since in most cases there is generally more than one strongly held opinion it is completely counterproductive to try and determine a “right” course of action for each situation on a case by case basis – it leads to some fascinating discussions, but won’t actually lead to anything getting done. There not being a “right” answer does not mean that there is also no path forward for “archaeological ethics”. I believe, as I have stated before, that the focus here must be on drafting legislation that ensures compromises can be reached by parties. This legislation needs to include clear, concrete terms and ensure consistency (two weaknesses that are present in existing legislation).
This takes me all the way back to undergraduate political science lectures: we need a social contract or we will wind up with Mutually Assured Destruction. Without external guidelines (ie. legislation) compromises will not be reached. Without compromises it is the sites and artefacts in question that will suffer.