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Mary Ellin D'Agostino

Until now, I have only cursorily followed the progression of the SOPA-ROPA proposal. Having read the proposal and discussion put out by the SAA and SHA, I am a little concerned over the narrow scope of the definition of what a "professional archaeologist" is--i.e., a "dirt" archaeologist. The only discussion of broadening the definition (in the official newsletters/web sites) is that inclusion of a "broader constituency" is "anticipated" for some undefined point in the future.

I do not find this comforting or convincing given the long-standing bias in archaeology that the dirt archaeologists are the only "real" archaeologists, while collections and document-oriented work is devalued. This is a particular problem for historical archaeologists who, presumably, focus a significant portion of their work on nonexcavated materials. Nor does it sit well with the recent discussion of the ethics of digging and destroying the nonrenewable resource of the archaeological record as opposed to working on all those (already excavated) collections moldering in museum basements.

The SAA Bulletin has only published arguments in favor of the proposal and doesn't even attempt to discuss any issues that might be of concern. Are there really no negative aspects of concern to SAA members? Is the only (negative) concern of SHA members the financial drain on the sponsoring organization? This is the only "minus" presented. Maybe the newsletters are limited by what contributors send in for the member comments, but the "official" proposal discussion ought to discuss concerns with more consideration than is given in the propaganda-like "Some Questions and Answers about ROPA" and the proposal itself.

Mary Ellin D'Agostino is at the University of California, Berkeley.

Bill Lipe

D'Agostino expresses two concerns with the ROPA proposal: (1) that the criteria for qualifying as an RPA do not provide for archaeologists whose principal experience has been in the laboratory, rather than in the field, and there is no assurance that ROPA will provide access to such professionals in the future; and (2) that the published commentary on ROPA in the SAA Bulletin (see Lipe and Kintigh 1997, 15(3): 6-14 and additional references cited therein) has not sufficiently aired the possible negative aspects of the proposal. The issues she raises are important, and I will attempt to address each in turn.

In the meetings of the ROPA task force, there was considerable discussion of the importance of making RPA status available to a broader range of professionals than are currently covered by the SOPA entry requirements. This issue was initially raised by the representatives of the Archaeological Institute of America, but there was general agreement that it was an important concern. However, the task force also felt that the only practical way to accomplish a transition from SOPA into ROPA was to use the existing structure of the former as the basis for the establishment of the latter, and to leave the future evolution of eligibility requirements, code of ethics, and research standards, etc. to the ROPA board, which is charged with the responsibility for such matters. Hence, the proposed ROPA eligibility requirements have been modified in only a few details from those currently maintained by SOPA. The task force did not feel that it would be appropriate to recommend substantial changes in the existing SOPA requirements, which have been established by the SOPA board, nor did it feel that it should tie the hands of the future ROPA board. Furthermore, it seemed likely that many members of SOPA would have opposed the transition to ROPA if this required substantial departures from the existing structure of SOPA.

It must be kept in mind that neither SOPA nor ROPA is a component of SAA, SHA, or AIA--the proposed sponsors. SOPA and its potential successor, ROPA, are separate entities, with their own governing boards. The appointed ROPA task force is not an appropriate body for developing policy for either SOPA or ROPA; its job has been to propose a way of establishing the latter on the basis of the former. If ROPA is established, each sponsoring organization will have influence on the board by appointing a board member, but that member must be an RPA. Given the the importance of the issue of how non-field-oriented professional archaeologists might become qualified RPAs, and the discussion that this point has received, it seems virtually certain that the new ROPA board would make consideration of this matter an early item of business.

With regard to the discussions of the ROPA proposal that have appeared in the SAA Bulletin, the SAA representatives on the task force saw their responsibility primarily as keeping the membership fully informed about what was happening and about the nature of the ROPA proposal. Five articles were published in the Bulletin over a period of more than two years, and an open forum on the proposal was held at the annual meeting in New Orleans in 1996. The question and answer segments in Lipe and Kintigh (1997) and McGimsey et al. (1995) were derived from discussions that took place when SOPA was first formed in the mid-1970s, from the 1996 New Orleans forum, and from suggestions by task force members. It was anticipated that if SAA members wished to further analyze or criticize the ROPA proposal, or if they wished to raise further questions or concerns, they would submit their comments to the SAA Bulletin. D'Agostino has done just that. I believe that exchanges of this sort are useful in helping the membership understand the proposal and decide how they wish to vote on it in the very near future.

Given the abundant and vocal controversy that the proposal for professional certification under SAA and the eventual formation of SOPA inspired in the mid-1970s, I personally have been surprised so few comments on the ROPA proposal have been sent to the Bulletin in response to the articles by myself and other task force representatives. SAA officers have also received few letters about it. I hope this means that the information presented has been adequate to allow members to make up their minds about how to vote on the proposal.

Bill Lipe is the SAA representative on the ROPA task force.


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