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SAA Principles of Archaeological Ethics

Keith W. Kintigh


At its April 10, 1996, meeting, the SAA Executive Board adopted the Principles of Archaeological Ethics, reproduced below, as proposed by the SAA Ethics in Archaeology Committee. The adoption of these principles represents the culmination of an effort begun in 1991 with the formation of the ad-hoc Ethics in Archaeology Committee. The committee was charged with considering the need for revising the society's existing statements on ethics. A 1993 workshop on ethics, held in Reno, resulted in draft principles that were presented at a public forum at the 1994 annual meeting in Anaheim. SAA published the draft principles with position papers from the forum and historical commentaries in a special report distributed to all members, Ethics and Archaeology: Challenges for the 1990s, edited by Mark. J. Lynott and Alison Wylie (1995). Member comments were solicited in this special report, through a notice in SAA Bulletin, and at two sessions held at the SAA booth during the 1995 annual meeting in Minneapolis. The final principles presented here are revised from the original draft based on comments from members and the Executive Board.

The Executive Board strongly endorses these principles and urges their use by all archaeologists "in negotiating the complex responsibilities they have to archaeological resources, and to all who have an interest in these resources or are otherwise affected by archaeological practice" (Lynott and Wylie 1995:8). The board is grateful to those who have contributed to the development of these principles, especially the members of the Ethics in Archaeology Committee, chaired by Mark. J. Lynott and Alison Wylie, for their skillful completion of this challenging and important task. The bylaws change just voted by the members has established a new standing committee, the Committee on Ethics, to carry on with these crucial efforts.

Principle No. 1: Stewardship
The archaeological record, that is, in situ archaeological material and sites, archaeological collections, records and reports, is irreplaceable. It is the responsibility of all archaeologists to work for the long-tem conservation and protection of the archaeological record by practicing and promoting stewardship of the archaeological record. Stewards are both caretakers of and advocates for the archaeological record. In the interests of stewardship, archaeologists should use and advocate use of the archaeological record for the benefit of all people; as they investigate and interpret the record, they should use the specialized knowledge they gain to promote public understanding and support for its long-term preservation.

Principle No. 2: Accountability
Responsible archaeological research, including all levels of professional activity, requires an acknowledgment of public accountability and a commitment to make every reasonable effort, in good faith, to consult actively with affected group(s), with the goal of establishing a working relationship that can be beneficial to all parties involved.

Principle No. 3: Commercialization
The Society for American Archaeology has long recognized that the buying and selling of objects out of archaeological context is contributing to the destruction of the archaeological record on the American continents and around the world. The commercialization of archaeological objects--their use as commodities to be exploited for personal enjoyment or profit--results in the destruction of archaeological sites and of contextual information that is essential to understanding the archaeological record. Archaeologists should therefore carefully weigh the benefits to scholarship of a project against the costs of potentially enhancing the commercial value of archaeological objects. Wherever possible, they shoulddiscourage, and should themselves avoid, activities that enhance the commercial value of archaeological objects, especially objects that are not curated in public institutions, or readily available for scientific study, public interpretation, and display.

Principle No. 4: Public Education and Outreach
Archaeologists should reach out to, and participate in, cooperative efforts with others interested in the archaeological record with the aim of improving the preservation, protection, and interpretation of the record. In particular, archaeologists should undertake to: 1) enlist public support for the stewardship of the archaeological record; 2) explain and promote the use of archaeological methods and techniques in understanding human behavior and culture; and 3) communicate archaeological interpretations of the past. Many publics exist for archaeology including students and teachers; Native Americans and other ethnic, religious, and cultural groups who find in the archaeological record important aspects of their cultural heritage; lawmakers and government officials; reporters, journalists, and others involved in the media; and the general public. Archaeologists who are unable to undertake public education and outreach directly should encourage and support the efforts of others in these activities.

Principle No. 5: Intellectual Property
Intellectual property, as contained in the knowledge and documents created through the study of archaeological resources, is part of the archaeological record. As such it should be treated in accord with the principles of stewardship rather than as a matter of personal possession. If there is a compelling reason, and no legal restrictions or strong countervailing interests, a researcher may have primary access to original materials and documents for a limited and reasonable time, after which these materials and documents must be made available to others.

Principle No. 6: Public Reporting and Publication
Within a reasonable time, the knowledge archaeologists gain from investigation of the archaeological record must be presented in accessible form (through publication or other means) to as wide a range of interested publics as possible. The documents and materials on which publication and other forms of public reporting are based should be deposited in a suitable place for permanent safekeeping. An interest in preserving and protecting in situ archaeological sites must be taken into account when publishing and distributing information about their nature and location.

Principle No. 7: Records and Preservation
Archaeologists should work actively for the preservation of, and long-term access to, archaeological collections, records, and reports. To this end, they should encourage colleagues, students, and others to make responsible use of collections, records, and reports in their research as one means of preserving the in situ archaeological record, and of increasing the care and attention given to that portion of the archaeological record which has been removed and incorporated into archaeological collections, records, and reports.

Principle No. 8: Training and Resources
Given the destructive nature of most archaeological investigations, archaeologists must ensure that they have adequate training, experience, facilities, and other support necessary to conduct any program of research they initiate in a manner consistent with the foregoing principles and contemporary standards of professional practice.

Keith W. Kintigh is at Arizona State University and is secretary of SAA.


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