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Letters to the Editor





Most archaeologists hold deep interest and respect for the Native American legacy. Most also hold that knowledge about the past gained through the process of scientific inquiry is a public good that helps to bind all humanity. I suspect that no amount of self-awareness of a respect for Indian heritage or as advocates for better Indian economic, educational, and health opportunities can balance the charges of ethnocentrism and bigotry assigned when we deviate from the "decisions" of "the Native American community." Despite lip service to learning about the past and reliance on the rules of evidence as dictated by a scientific canon, many archaeologists and the SAA have chosen to err on the side of political correctness.

At what point, however, does the discussion about cultural patrimony collide with the tribalism and division characteristic of multiculturalism? The exclusive status assigned cultural difference by multiculturalism assures a more ethnocentric world without equal dialogue about cultural similarities and an epistemology that transcends local ideology. Perhaps because archaeologists typically see themselves as committed to Native American legacies and issues, we are too uncritical. We thus risk joining the populist American tradition of anti-intellectualism. In the name of cultural relativism, and political (and career?) expedience, archaeologists increasingly acquiesce to virtually any position in the name of "support" for Native Americans.

While we can all cite instances of cooperation between archaeologists and Native Americans, a change for the better, there are some other sides as well. Just a few examples:

The Berkeley textbook committees trying to bar books in public schools that assert the peopling of the western hemisphere via the Bering land bridge in the last Ice Age because no Native American folktales speak of such a past. We thus endorse division of Native Americans from the world's peoples and acquiesce to disseminating a particular faith in the public schools. What is the difference from scientific creationism other than we can feel we are supporting Indian religion rather than the Christian right?

The recent draft rules of the Department of Interior NAGPRA Review Committee (distributed at the April 1995 SAA meetings), which, among many questionable points, states "there may be potential value in such (scientific) analyses, such values do not...confer a right of control...that supersedes the spiritual and cultural concerns of Native American people." Consider this in light of a preceding statement, "there are remains...for which it is not possible to identify specific cultural connections to any particular tribe. However such remains and objects, no matter how ancient, are nevertheless Native American." Ironically, these interpretations of NAGPRA (and the bill itself) smacks of division and ethnocentrism. We need only extend the term "ancient" a few thousand more years to include people of both hemispheres as ancestral. Once again, we endorse division and the separation of Native Americans from the world's peoples.

How far shall we go? A recent article in the SAA Bulletin [13(1):4] may give a hint. Speaking of what Native American archaeologists can do, SAA members are told, "We can determine what is appropriate to publish, and what is not. We can determine how and what is to be exhibited in museums. We can determine what gets studied, photographed, recorded, and what should be left alone. We can determine what gets excavated, if at all, and how it should be done."

Perhaps I am just a fool when I mistake such discourse as analogous to the Christian right forcing their religious values down my throat via the legislative, judicial, and educational systems. The above passage could easily come from the mouth of Jimmy Swaggart or Pat Robertson. It is no less ideological or anti-intellectual than the scientific creationism that archaeologists (including the SAA) vociferously opposed in the 1980s. Where are we now? Like I say, we are torn by genuine ideals, but I wonder when we will stand up and argue for a pursuit of humanitarian ideals and a search for good that transcends such nativistic and short-sighted ideology.

I for one look forward to the day that some of the ever-escalating demands come to court--such as those stated in the passage above, or the calls for censorship rights over original notes, photos, and publication. I guess we are going to have to wait for that before comparing some of the claims made under the principle of cultural patrimony to those contained in, for instance, the First Amendment. At least then archaeologists and the SAA will be forced to pick some priorities, cast their gaze a bit more globally, and live up to our own press as the science that takes the long view of things.

Steven R. Simms
Associate Professor
Utah State University

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During the last several months, the defining concept of historical archaeology has been discussed within this newsletter. Leone and Potter [SAA Bulletin 12(4):14-15] began by describing a symposium devoted to the archaeology of capitalism; to them historical archaeology is the archaeology of capitalism. I [SAA Bulletin 13(1):3] argued that the Modern Period concept was broader in scope and offered a few comments regarding Marxist archaeology. Marshal Becker and Mark Hackbarth each replied to my paper and offered comments on the discussion in general. My responses to them are given below.

Becker [SAA Bulletin 13(2):6] made two statements that need to be answered. First he claimed that this discussion is nothing more than people expressing their "own very personal viewpoints." This is inaccurate. Leone and Potter are not alone in their views about historical archaeology. Other prominent scholars who have discussed the archaeology of capitalism include Charles Orser, Robert Paynter, Russell Handsman, Paul Shackel, and Barbara Little. Although little known, the Modern Period concept is also supported by some well known researchers. Robert Schuyler first described the basic tenets of it in his paper "A Complete Curriculum: Historical Archaeology on the Undergraduate Level" in Archaeology and Education: The Classroom and Beyond (K. C. Smith and F. P. McManamon, eds., 1991). In addition, the most recent textbook for the field adopts this perspective (C. E. Orser and B. M. Fagan, Historical Archaeology, 1995). Basically, the next generation of historical archaeology students will be learning about the Modern Period. So, the opinions delivered here are very much professional ones and are in line with current trends within the discipline.

The second issue that Becker addressed is his view that historical archaeology is nothing "without some relationship to the historical record." This idea has been popular and has even led some to feel that historical archaeology is unique due to its two data sets. This view is rather shallow. All archaeological research is interdisciplinary--everyone has to deal with the methodological problem of integrating archaeological information with other types of independent lines of data, whether these data be from pollen, phytoliths, geology, or the historical record. Defining the discipline based on the ability of its practitioners to integrate two data sets does not leave much room for growth and expansion. The discipline already is close to resolving this methodological problem. There has been a flurry of publications discussing text-aided archaeology, documentary archaeology, and the "written and the wrought." Leone's revision of Middle Range Theory and how it is applied to historical archaeology is at the cutting edge of this scholarship and will allow researchers to master the problem within the next decade. But where to next? Defining historical archaeology via a methodological issue cannot carry it deep into the 21st century. A definition based on chronology and the substantive theme of modernization will do this and take the discipline to all corners of the world, into new methodological problems, and will generate a healthy respect from the public, who pay the bills. Becker is looking backward. The Modern Period will take historical archaeology forward.

The comments by Mark Hackbarth [SAA Bulletin 13(2):6-7] were very different. Basically, he seems to confuse academic freedom with social acceptance, credibility. First, he believes that I criticized the Marxist perspective for being a "defunct, failed strategy." These are his words, not mine. I advised the Marxists to reconsider their positions because they have no credibility. The fall of the communist nations means that the Marxist perspective has no support base from which to draw power and authority. Many social scientists, Marxist inspired or not, have argued that ideology supports and rationalizes social structures. I agree. What social structure does the Marxist's ideology support? Hackbarth refers to China and Cuba as being strong communist countries. Apparently he has not been paying attention to world events. Both these countries (and Vietnam and North Korea) are viewed as emerging markets by venture capitalists. China is undergoing important economic reforms at this time because it will acquire Hong Kong at the end of the century. This is going to place China in the capitalist world. China hosted a major technology trade fair in April wherein hundreds of Western companies shopped their products. Additionally, the Shanghai Stock Exchange has been thriving for several years, indicating that a partially free market already exists there. On a similar note, Cuba recently signed trade agreements with the United States; there are mutual funds available to those who wish to invest in Cuba. All the communist nations are restructuring their economies, bringing in Western capital. They have to, to survive.

Hackbarth also claimed that Marxism is still an acceptable academic perspective--and he is right. The "politically correct" movement has not completely done away with the idea of academic freedom. Marxists can publish what they please. Their analyses may be accurate but without credibility they are marginal and ineffective. In academia, Marxists perform before a small audience, themselves. Hackbarth should be encouraged--the Modern Period is wide open for analyses from the Marxist perspective. Charles Orser must have recognized this as he wrote the text mentioned above. However, the problem lies beyond academia. To become truly effective and achieve their social reform goals, Marxist archaeologists must develop a constituency within the American public through Public Archaeology. This means that they are willing to play poker with the credibility of the discipline. All it will take is a few interpretations that are sour on American life for the credibility of the whole discipline to be questioned. And the Enola Gay effect will be revisited upon the heads of American archaeologists. To ignore this lesson is foolish. While performing the normal duties of their jobs, Public archaeologists do not have academic freedom. They cannot chastise the institution or society that feeds them.

The third point made by Hackbarth is that he feels that the participants in this discussion are in "error" by assuming that they can "provide a unifying concept for all 500 years" of their focus. He supported this concern by arguing that people would inappropriately try to impose general theories of cultural homogeneity on the world. It seems that he missed the point of the discussion. Defining a discipline means identifying a common denominator that all the diverse practitioners can hover around. Likewise, no one said anything about the world becoming one big homogeneous place. It is true that many theories are linked to ideas of cultural homogeneity, but there is plenty of room to create theories of cultural diversity. Leone and Potter are well aware that capitalism is manifested in diverse ways around the world. Unfortunately, their perspective does not focus on enough diversity as it ignores other types of political-economic systems active within the modern world, and, due to its Marxist association, it introduces a social factor that has to be carefully monitored as archaeologists go about their business of interpreting the past to the general public. The Modern Period concept avoids both these issues; it offers a broad scope that subsumes the archaeology of capitalism and it sustains the professional character and credibility of the discipline.

The future of Modern Period archaeology is good. This is an adaptation that historical archaeology can take knowing full well that it is interesting and useful to society. At the same time, the temptation to shoulder the burdens of the world can be resisted.

Lawrence E. Moore
Heritage Resources Office
Fairfax County, Virginia

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