Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page

Finding Creative Solutions for Restructuring American Archaeology: A Summary

Catherine M. Cameron and Roger Anyon

America is changing socially, politically, and economically, and it is dramatically transforming the context within which archaeology is conducted. The SAA Executive Board's evening panel discussion in Minneapolis, "Finding Creative Solutions for Restructuring American Archaeology," sought ways for archaeologists not only to survive these troubled times, but to maximize archaeology's contribution to our post-modern world. The Board invited a panel of experts representing the diversity of archaeological practice: David Anderson (National Park Service), Don Fowler (University of Nevada-Reno), Leigh Jenkins (Hopi Tribe), Michael J. Moratto (Infotec Research), Margaret Nelson (SUNY-Buffalo), and Brona G. Simon (Massachusetts Historical Commission). The session, moderated by SAA President William Lipe, had an open mike that allowed the audience to raise important issues and suggest ways that archaeology's challenges could be met.

The discussion centered on several major themes. Education was mentioned by virtually every panelist; we need to educate ourselves and we need to educate the public about the importance of archaeology. Anderson and Moratto emphasized that most archaeologists work in Cultural Resource Management (CRM); we need to provide training relevant to CRM careers and reward individuals who excel in CRM archaeology. Nelson pointed out that the natural partnership between academia and CRM should be exploited so that students learn how to conduct research in a CRM context. She noted that academics must reeducate themselves so they can teach CRM methods and approaches to their students. Fowler described the unique continuing education program at the University of Nevada-Reno where courses have been developed to keep CRM archaeologists current with the latest methods and theories. He also emphasized the need for academics to participate in their own continuing education about developments within CRM.

The importance of public education was a recurring theme stressed by the panelists. Lipe pointed out that the past 25 years have been the Golden Age of archaeology; we have learned a tremendous amount about the past. The interested public (a group, as Lipe noted, that is growing) is our most important customer and we must package our information about the past so that it is understandable and accessible to the public. Nelson advised academics to learn to work with primary school teachers to help them teach archaeology to their young students whose minds are open to diverse views of the past. She praised SAA's Public Education Committee, whose newsletter, distributed to nearly 10,000 subscribers, contains actual lesson plans for elementary school teachers.

Simon suggested that archaeologists learn public relations, such as how to give the press information that sounds as exciting as it is. She believes that learning how to write for popular publication should be part of every archaeologist's training. Members of the audience expressed concern that so few archaeologists were making efforts to educate the public about the importance of archaeology. For example, Lynne Sebastian, New Mexico's deputy SHPO, reported that no academic archaeologists and only three of more than 50 contract companies in New Mexico took part in New Mexico's Annual Archaeology Week. Panel members agreed that public education was every archaeologist's duty.

As the session made clear, Native American traditional knowledge is a source of information about the past that can no longer be ignored by archaeologists. Leigh Jenkins spoke eloquently about the approaches the Hopi Tribe has taken to document their past. Using Hopi as an example, he urged archaeologists to address research questions of importance to Native Americans and employ their knowledge of the past in scientific studies. As a cautionary note, Jenkins also stressed that archaeologists should not lose their objectivity to the pressures of political manipulation. Simon cited several examples from Massachusetts in which Native Americans and archaeologists are collaborating on projects, including a field school run jointly by a state university and a local tribe. Simon pointed out the importance of giving students the opportunity to learn how to learn from Native American people. Fowler advised archaeologists to work in a culturally equitable manner and noted that the University of Nevada-Reno will be offering courses with Native American instructors who will teach government archaeologists and others how to consult with the Native American community. Partnerships between Native Americans and archaeologists will be a significant part of 21st-century archaeology.

The topic that drew the most intense debate surrounded the appropriate treatment of archaeological sites, balancing the need for scientific knowledge about the past, a conservation ethic, and the realities of our changing legislative mandate. Anderson advocated preservation and stabilization of sites, rather than excavation. Both Anderson and Simon asserted that academic research should be conducted only at threatened sites, and Anderson added that superior salvage archaeology should be rewarded. Fowler encouraged the use of cooperative agreements be-tween federal agencies and academia that allow academic research and training of students while fulfilling the requirements of federal laws. Nelson gathered an intriguing set of data demonstrating that, contrary to current criticism, less than one-fourth of archaeological dissertations were based on excavation projects conducted by students. Nelson's study also showed that the use of museum data for dissertation research has doubled in the past two years. Nelson's study indicated that ethical concerns about excessive excavation have had an effect on academic training.

In a query from the audience, Keith Kintigh, SAA secretary, wondered whether we needed a more dramatic shake-up of our public archaeology program than had been suggested by the panel. Moratto's response was affirmative. He noted that approximately $450 million is spent each year on archaeology and the results are unsatisfactory. Thousands of dollars are spent to excavate sites on some projects where the recovered data are redundant or unexciting, while other projects are so poorly funded that highly significant sites are given perfunctory or incomplete treatment. Moratto suggested that the current revision of the Section 106 regulations (36 CFR Part 800) is an opportunity to change CRM archaeology from a project-driven focus to one that is research-driven. He proposed the establishment of regional research boards to set research agendas for the decade to come. These research boards would screen federal undertakings and recommend archaeological excavation where the greatest knowledge could be gained from this type of operation. Project proponents would be required to contribute a small portion of the cost for each project to a "bank" that would fund such research. Moratto noted that this process would not only maximize archaeological knowledge, but it would also give developers and other project proponents what they want: reasonable costs and predictability.

The audience discussion touched on a number of other topics. In response to concerns about the delays that archaeology might cause to much-needed projects, both Moratto and Simon pointed out that the flexibility in our current regulations (and in some cases, state law) should allow agencies to prevent such delays. Audience members also raised the problem of federal contracts being let to the "lowest bidder." Anderson contended that it was the responsibility of the federal employee with oversight of the project to bring inadequate products to the attention of the agency's contracting officer, who has the ability to withhold payment. Anderson also suggested that the new CRM organization (American Cultural Resources Association) may improve the policing of firms that conduct contract archaeology.

"Finding Creative Solutions for Restructuring American Archaeology" was well received. We heard many positive comments on the directions proposed by the panelists during discussion. The Executive Boards is considering developing another session for the 1996 Annual Meeting in New Orleans. "Restructuring II" might include more time devoted to audience participation and/or a more focused discussion on one or a few topics. Any ideas? Please contact SAA Executive Director Ralph Johnson by October 15 by writing SAA, 900 Second St. N.E. #12, Washington, DC 20002-3557, (202) 789-8200, fax (202) 789-0284.

Catherine Cameron is with the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation. Roger Anyon is with the Zuni Tribe's Heritage and Historic Preservation Office. Both are also members of the SAA Executive Board.

To Top of Page

Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page