- Archaeological ethics
Archaeological ethics refers to a number of
moralissues raised through the study of the material past.
In common with other academic disciplines, archaeologists are bound to conduct their investigations to a high standard and observe intellectual property laws,
Health and Safetyregulations and other legal obligations. Professional bodies in the field require that their members work towards the preservation and management of archaeological resources, treat human remains with dignity and also usually encourage outreachactivities. Where these bodies exist, sanctions are in place for those professionals who do not observe these ethical codes. By no means all jurisdictions have such professional bodies however and even where they do exist, membership may not be necessary in order to carry out archaeological investigations.
A common ethical issue in modern archaeology has been the treatment of human remains found during
excavations especially those that represent the ancestors of aboriginal groups in the New Worldor the remains of other minority races elsewhere. Where previously sites of great significance to native peoples could be excavated and any burials and artefacts taken to be stored in museums or sold, there is increasing awareness in the West of taking a more respectful approach. The NAGPRAlegislation in the United States of Americais an example of this. The issue is not limited to ancient remains, nineteenth and twentieth century burial sites investigated by archaeologists such as First World Wargraves and cemeteries disturbed by developments have seen the remains of people with closely-connected living relatives being exhumed and taken away.
The international trade in
antiquities, although not formally connected with the modern discipline of archaeology has also raised ethical questions regarding the ownership of archaeological artefacts. The market for imported antiquities has encouraged damage to archaeological sites and often led to appeals for the recall.
Examples of archaeological material removed from its place of origin and controversy over its return include the
A wider question of control and ownership over the past has also been raised through the political manipulation of the
archaeological recordto promote nationalismand justify military invasion. A famous example is the corps of archaeologists employed by Adolf Hitlerto excavate in central Europe in the hope of finding evidence for a region-wide Ayranculture. Many archaeologists in the West today are employees of national governments or are privately employed instruments of government-derived archaeology legislation. In all cases this legislation is a compromise to some degree or another between the interests of the archaeological remains and the interests of economic development. Questions regarding the ethical validity of government heritage policies and whether they sufficiently protect important remains are raised during cases such as High Speed 1in Londonwhere burials at a cemetery at St Pancrasrailway station were hurriedly dug using a JCB and mistreated in order to keep an important infrastructure project on schedule.
Another issue is the question of whether unthreatened archaeological remains should be excavated (and therefore destroyed) or preserved intact for future generations to investigate, perhaps using more advanced techniques that could provide more detailed information. Some archaeological guidance such as
PPG 16has established a strong ethical argument for only excavating sites threatened with destruction.
* [http://www.archaeological.org/pdfs/AIA_Code_of_EthicsA5S.pdf The Code of Ethics of the Archaeological Institute of America]
* [http://www.archaeologists.net/modules/icontent/inPages/docs/codes/codeconduct.pdf Institute of Field Archaeologists Code of Conduct]
* [http://www.economist.com/science/displayStory.cfm?story_id=1056932 Ethics and archaeology]
* [http://www.bajr.org/DiggerMagazine/The%20Digger26/article1.html Rail Company desecrates St Pancras cemetery]
* [http://www.channel4.com/history/microsites/G/great_excavations/servants.html Hitler and others' use of archaeology]
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