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Proposal for the Establishment of the Register of Professional Archaeologists

Presented by the ROPA Task Force: AIA: Claire Lyons, Nancy Wilkie; SAA: William D. Lipe, Keith Kintigh; SHA: Henry Miller, Donna Seifert; SOPA: C. R. McGimsey III, Charles Cleland

March 18, 1996


Over the past 40 years, archaeologists within a number of organizations have devoted considerable attention to developing a higher degree of professionalism through promulgating general statements of ethical standards. However, professional organizations including the Society for American Archaeology (SAA), the Society for Historical Archaeology (SHA), and the Archaeological Institute of America (AIA) have not developed effective ways to enforce basic professional standards.

The most successful steps in this direction have been taken since 1976 by the Society of Professional Archeologists (SOPA), with its codified ethics, standards of performance, and proven grievance procedures. SOPA's effectiveness within the discipline of archaeology has been limited, however, by the lack of direct support from the major archaeological organizations and, more importantly, by the failure of larger numbers of archaeologists to subscribe to the more rigorous code of ethics and standards proffered by SOPA. The current SOPA membership is approximately 700.

In the past 25 years, archaeology has grown from a relatively small academic discipline to one that is having a daily impact on the public. Because of the extensive land disturbance associated with modern economic development programs, archaeologists have increasingly become involved in public efforts to avoid or mitigate the adverse effects on archaeological resources. Academically employed archaeologists affect the resource base in the conduct of their research and are responsible for training students to be professionals. Archaeologists, whether engaged in consulting, government, or academically based work, need to be accountable to the public, which supports archaeology through state and federal agency programs, museums, educational and research institutions, and laws that mandate the consideration of archaeological resource values in planning and development.

With this greater public involvement has come an increasing need for a widely accepted code of archaeological ethics and standards of performance, as well as effective sanctions when they are transgressed. Archaeologists all recognize that substandard archaeological work represents an ongoing problem for the profession and for the public that we serve and that it damages the archaeological resource base. One essential remedy is for professional archaeologists to agree to be held accountable to basic professional ethics and standards, as is the case for many other professions that provide services to the public. Only if this is achieved can archaeologists improve the overall quality of archaeological work, gain greater public acceptance as professionals, and become properly accountable.

The major archaeological organizations have recognized that a united effort may be the best approach to achieve the increasingly urgent need for professional accountability. This task force, representing the AIA, SAA, SHA, and SOPA, proposes a coordinated approach in which SOPA is transformed into the Register of Professional Archaeologists (ROPA). ROPA would be independent of, but sponsored and supported by, the AIA, SAA, and SHA. These sponsoring organizations would all strive to induce their qualified members to voluntarily register, thereby enhancing the profession's ability to effectively meet a necessary and appropriate level of public and professional responsibility.

The philosophy underlying ROPA is that by registering, archaeologists publicly endorse and agree to be held accountable to a basic set of eligibility requirements, a code of ethical principles, and standards of professional performance. The eligibility requirements are not designed to identify and reward excellence, as desirable as that might be; rather, they define a basic threshold of qualifications for who can be called a professional archaeologist. Beyond that, the code of ethics obligates registered archaeologists to be reasonably prepared, by education and experience, for the professional work they undertake. Most importantly, registered archaeologists agree to submit themselves to a grievance procedure should anyone challenge their conformance with the requirements, ethics, or standards established by ROPA. The function of the register is not to test (i.e., certify) its members but rather to list those individuals who have obtained full professional status and who have agreed to be held accountable to professional requirements, principles, and standards. This is what gives moral force to the register for defining professionalism both within archaeology and to the general public.

By endorsing this proposal for the Register of Professional Archaeologists, the profession will enhance its ethics and research standards, thereby increasing its credibility and accountability and making more effective our efforts in conservation, communication, and public education.


A. Standards and Procedures

1. Role of ROPA. The functions of ROPA would be

(a) to promulgate a code of ethics and standards of performance for professional archaeologists;

(b) to determine the requirements for ROPA eligibility;

(c) to register professional archaeologists;

(d) to publish annually a directory of Registered Professional Archaeologists (RPAs);

(e) to administer grievance procedures for complaints filed against RPAs; and

(f) to represent the professional practitioners of the discipline of archaeology with regard to issues of professionalism, such as promoting incorporation of standards in regulation or law.

2. Application and Registration. To become a Registered Professional Archaeologist (RPA), an archaeologist would be required (1) to submit evidence of training and experience required for ROPA eligibility; (2) to subscribe to the ROPA Code of Ethics and Standards of Research Performance; and (3) to agree to submit to ROPA's grievance process and to cooperate fully in the investigation of any complaint.

(a) These requirements define who is eligible for ROPA registration:

1. Education. One must hold an advanced degree (such as an MA, MS, PhD, or DSc) from an accredited institution in archaeology, anthropology, art history, classics, history, or another germane discipline with a specialization in archaeology. The educational requirement is documented by a copy of a diploma or a transcript indicating award of the degree.

2. Execution of an Archaeological Study. One must have designed and executed an archaeological study and have reported on that research in the form of a thesis, dissertation, or report (or several smaller reports that together are) equivalent in scope and quality to a master's thesis or PhD dissertation. A purely descriptive report, however long, is not considered equivalent. The thesis, dissertation, or report must show a substantive data analysis by the applicant directed toward an explicit archaeological research problem. This requirement is documented by title page, abstract, and table of contents of the thesis, dissertation, or report.

3. Field and Laboratory Experience. The applicant must document a total of at least one year (52 weeks) of field and laboratory experience, gained in blocks of at least four weeks duration, distributed as follows:

(a) Supervised field experience. The individual must document 16 weeks of supervised excavation/testing and survey experience, of which no more than eight weeks can be surface survey. The experience must have been under the supervision of a Registered Professional Archaeologist or an archaeologist who meets the requirements to be registered by ROPA.

(b) Laboratory experience. The individual must document 16 weeks of supervised laboratory experience. The experience must have been under the supervision of a Registered Professional Archaeologist or an archaeologist who meets the requirements to be registered by ROPA. Laboratory experience is defined as processing, conserving, analyzing, and curating archaeological collections; analyzing archaeological field records (e.g., of architecture, features, stratigraphy, or settlement patterns); or archival research on primary historical documents related to an archaeological project (which is not equivalent to ordinary library research).

(c) Supervisory Research Experience. One must document 20 weeks of experience in supervising the conduct of excavation/testing, survey, or laboratory work. One can gain both supervisory and supervised experience at the same time (e.g., as a crew chief working under the supervision of a field director), but such experience counted under (c) cannot also be counted under (a) or (b).

4. Documentation of Field and Laboratory Experience

(a) The field and laboratory experience requirements are ordinarily documented by a list of the relevant episodes of experience including the project name and location, the supervisor (except for supervisory experience), the approximate dates, and the duration of each block of experience.

(b) In some instances, it may be difficult for archaeologists to fully reconstruct their field and laboratory experience. In such cases, and in others in which career-related experience may have provided comparable preparation, the applicant may list and briefly describe projects that together provide at least one year of experience in survey, excavation, and laboratory processing/analysis. This must include the minimum of 16 weeks of work in the field (of which at least eight are in excavation), 16 in the laboratory, and 20 weeks in a responsible supervisory capacity. Survey projects which involved testing or the oversight of major projects requiring research design and responsibility for quality control are examples of experience that would satisfy the field requirement. For each project, indicate the duration and nature of one's involvement, name the project director or supervisor, and cite any relevant publications.

(b) ROPA's Code of Ethics and Standards of Research Performance, at the inception of ROPA, will be the current SOPA Code of Ethics and Standards of Research Performance. However, from time to time the code and standards, as well as the eligibility requirements, will be reviewed and revised (in accord with the bylaws) to take into account the evolving needs of the profession.

(c) The ROPA Grievance Process, at the inception of ROPA, will be defined by SOPA's Disciplinary Procedures modified to substitute "ROPA" for "SOPA" and "Registered Professional Archaeologist" for "certified member." Disciplinary measures range from admonishment to expulsion from the register. In the event that a grievance results in a disciplinary action, the ROPA board may publish or otherwise distribute the results of disciplinary proceedings to individuals, corporations, government agencies, or the media and will publish a notice of the action in the newsletters of the sponsoring organizations and in the Directory of Registered Professional Archaeologists.

3. Sponsoring Organizations. Sponsorship by a professional archaeological organization obligates the organization to continuing financial support and entitles it to a position on the ROPA governing board.

(a) Initially, the AIA, SAA, and SHA would have the option to become sponsors of ROPA.

(b) ROPA sponsorship or any subsequent withdrawal of sponsorship may not simply be an action of the sponsoring organization's executive board. Rather, for SAA or SHA it must be an action of the organization's membership and for AIA, an action of the Council of the Governing Board.

(c) While sponsoring organizations can withdraw from ROPA, sponsorship is intended to represent an enduring commitment by each organization to the establishment and maintenance of professional ethics and standards in archaeology.

(d) Each organization will fill its board position with an RPA and will carry a column, "ROPA News," in its newsletter.

(e) The ROPA board will establish criteria under which the sponsorship by additional organizations would be accepted or under which ROPA could disassociate itself from an existing sponsor.

B. Governance

1. Legal Incorporation. ROPA would be a legally incorporated, not-for-profit organization, operating under approved bylaws. ROPA would be legally independent from, but sponsored by, national archaeological organizations.

2. Governing Board. ROPA would be administered by a governing board consisting of three officers, who would represent and be elected by the RPAs, and board members, with one representing each sponsoring organization. If one of the organizational representatives should be elected to an office by the RPAs, the sponsoring organization would select a new representative as its board member.

3. Voting. Decisions shall be made by a majority vote of the governing board. In the event of a tie, the vote of the president shall prevail.

4. Officers. The officers would be president, president-elect, and secretary-treasurer. Officers serve two-year terms. The president-elect would automatically succeed to the presidency. Election of the president-elect and secretary-treasurer would be in alternate years.

5. Sponsoring Organization Board Positions. Each sponsoring organization would elect or appoint (at the discretion of the organization) a Registered Professional Archaeologist to its ROPA board position for a three-year term. In either case, the sponsoring organization will develop a mechanism that ensures effective communication of the representative with the board of the sponsoring organization. Terms of office for all representatives of the different organizations would be staggered with initial terms chosen by lottery.

6. Registrar, Grievance Officer, and Standards Board Members. ROPA's registrar, grievance officer, and standards board members1 would be elected to two-year terms by the Registered Professional Archaeologists. ROPA bylaws would allow much of the registrar's function to be performed by staff but responsibility would remain with the registrar.

7. Ex-officio Members. The ROPA registrar, grievance officer, and a staff liaison would serve as ex-officio, nonvoting members of the ROPA governing board.

C. Finance and Administration

1. Budget and Expenses. The ROPA board would establish (a) an annual budget covering operating expenses and (b) an annual allocation to the grievance fund designed to maintain its reserves at the desired level. Expenditures of ROPA funds would be controlled by the board. The grievance fund covers the costs of investigation and prosecution of grievances, which may be variable.

2. Income. ROPA would be financially supported by (a) application fees paid by archaeologists seeking to become registered; (b) annual registration fees from the RPAs; and (c) an annual allocation from each sponsoring organization.

(a) The ROPA application fee will be set at $35 (with a first-year rate of $30 for new applicants) and subsequently will be set by the ROPA board.

(b) The annual registration fee initially will be set at $45 (with a $25 first-year rate for new registrants) for an individual who is a member of one or more of the sponsoring organizations and $125 for other individuals. Subsequently, these rates will be set by the ROPA board. Current SOPA members who are not members of a sponsoring organization will have a year's grace period before the higher annual fee is imposed.

(c) Each sponsoring organization would commit to pay a $5,000 annual allocation, half at the beginning of the ROPA fiscal year and half midway through that year. In addition, each sponsoring organization would contribute a one-time start-up allocation of $5,000, except for SAA which (in recognition of its larger professional membership) would contribute $7,500. The annual allocation may not be raised by the ROPA board without the expressed consent of the boards of all sponsoring organizations. Any organization that becomes a sponsor subsequent to ROPA's establishment will contribute a start-up allocation of $5,000 and the annual allocation then current.

3. Administration. Through its operating budget, ROPA would fund administrative activities in a central office. A central office with a permanent address and telephone number is necessary for ROPA to develop and to operate on the scale that is anticipated.

(a) The services provided by the central office would include

(1) proposing and implementing board-approved marketing of ROPA as a part of a broad effort to substantially increase the number of RPAs;

(2) assisting the registrar in processing applications;

(3) maintaining the registrant database;

(4) coordinating elections;

(5) publishing and distributing annually the Directory of Registered Professional Archaeologists;

(6) maintaining a financial infrastructure, including billing for annual renewals and maintaining the financial records of ROPA;

(7) providing administrative support for the governing board and maintaining the administrative records of ROPA;

(8) filing of necessary documents to initiate and maintain legal incorporation as a not-for-profit organization;

(9) answering mail and telephone inquiries; and

(10) providing space, furniture, and access to computer systems and office equipment necessary for these services.

(b) Administrative services would be provided by a central office, under a contract to ROPA, with an initial term of no more than four years. The central office, which could be within one of the sponsoring organizations, provided by a management firm, or in some other institution, will be determined by the ROPA board upon the creation of ROPA.

D. Transition

1. SOPA Vote. Once the SAA, SHA, and SOPA boards vote to accept the ROPA proposal in principle and to submit it to their memberships, the SOPA membership would vote on whether to establish ROPA as a replacement for SOPA. If the SOPA vote is negative, there is no further action and SOPA would continue.

2. Vote by Sponsoring Organizations. If the SOPA membership vote favors establishment of ROPA, the voting memberships of SAA and SHA and the Council of the Governing Board of the AIA would decide whether their organizations should sponsor ROPA as proposed herein. As a part of this vote, each organization must change its bylaws specifically accepting ROPA sponsorship and specifying an effective communication mechanism between the organization's board and the organization's representative on the ROPA board. If the memberships of either SAA or SHA fail to endorse the proposal, there is no further action and SOPA would continue.

3. SOPA Ceases to Exist. If both the SAA and SHA memberships vote to sponsor ROPA, SOPA would become dormant but maintain its legal status as an organization. From SOPA's current assets, all but $1,000 would be transferred to ROPA, with $10,000 assigned to help fund the start-up and the remainder transferred to the ROPA grievance fund.2 Based on an annual review (at the beginning of each ROPA fiscal year), once the target number of RPAs has been reached (1,100 RPAs if three organizations sponsor ROPA or 1,300 if two become sponsors)3, SOPA would cease to exist and any remaining assets would be transferred to the ROPA grievance fund. If, at the time of the review, the target number of RPAs has not been met, the ROPA board must either propose a financial plan acceptable to the boards of all sponsoring organizations or dissolve ROPA and revitalize SOPA as an independent organization. SOPA would remain in dormant status either until the target is met or until the ROPA board, with the concurrence of all sponsoring organization boards, elects to dissolve ROPA legally. If ROPA is dissolved during the period that SOPA is dormant, all ROPA assets would be transferred to SOPA.

4. The SOPA Newsletter Is Discontinued. With the establishment of ROPA, the SOPA Newsletter would be discontinued; a column, "RPA News," would be carried in the newsletter of each sponsoring organization. Individuals who are not members of any sponsoring organization could elect to receive the newsletter of any sponsoring organization (the cost of which would be reimbursed to the organization by ROPA).

5. ROPA Incorporation and Bylaws. ROPA would be legally incorporated as a not-for-profit organization. The transitional officers and board members would meet and establish the initial ROPA bylaws consistent with the proposal voted on by the sponsoring organizations.

6. SOPA Members Become RPAs. With the dissolution of SOPA and creation of ROPA, all members of SOPA in good standing would automatically become Registered Professional Archaeologists under ROPA. No new application to become an RPA would be required for archaeologists already registered by SOPA.

7. Transition Officers and Board Members. To provide for continuity and institutional memory, SOPA's president would become the initial ROPA president and the SOPA treasurer would become the ROPA secretary-treasurer. SOPA's certification chair (secretary) would become the initial ROPA registrar. The executive board of each sponsoring organization would appoint the organization's initial member on the ROPA board. SOPA's grievance coordinator and standards board members would initially continue in these same positions for ROPA. The transitional individual filling each of these positions would serve until the end of the regular term established by the ROPA bylaws for that position. The initial board would be without a president-elect until a regular election is held.

8. Sponsoring Organizations Encourage Registration. The sponsoring organizations would actively encourage all eligible members to become Registered Professional Archaeologists. Upon the establishment of ROPA, the sponsoring organizations will strongly support ROPA registration editorially, and in other ways, and foster an expectation that its qualified members will register.


1 The Standards Board is distinct from the Governing Board. It will consist of three members and three alternates elected by the RPAs, and will hear grievance cases brought before it by the grievance officer after investigation; it will also hear appeals regarding decisions about registration.

2 The amount to be transferred from SOPA to ROPA is expected to be about $50,000.

3 The targets are the estimated number of RPAs needed for ROPA, in the form envisioned, to continue on a financially sound basis.

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