THE MANY FACES OF CRM
CRM in Introductory Archaeology Textbooks
Archaeology: Discovering Our Past. 1993 (2nd edition) R. J. Sharer and W. Ashmore. Mayfield Publishing Company, Mountain View, CA.
Reviewed by Robert G. Elston
This is one of the best current texts for introducing the nuts and bolts of archaeology, and presenting a comprehensive review of contemporary archaeological goals and methods. Postmodern archaeology is given a nod, but the book seems designed for use by instructors who prefer to teach a positivist and processual archaeology. Those who find the book too long on methodology may order it bundled with Price and Feinman's Images of the Past (also published by Mayfield), which discusses large issues in prehistory at an introductory level, and presents the fruits of archaeological research, beautifully illustrated in a large format.
Sharer and Ashmore present a balanced and positive view of CRM. Throughout, their discussion of CRM emphasizes practice in the United States, but the authors also cite examples from other countries. Their brief introduction to CRM in the first chapter is a discussion of archaeology as a profession. CRM is acknowledged as "the fastest growing segment of the archaeological profession accounting for more than half of all professional archaeologists employed in the United States" (in 1998, CRM archaeologists are an even larger majority). The authors view the growth of CRM archaeology as a positive response to accelerated destruction of cultural heritage in the United States and globally. CRM is distinguished from academic research by its venues (mostly private firms and government agencies), and by its statutory goals (protection and conservation; identification, evaluation of cultural properties, and data recovery from significant properties when necessary). Sharer and Ashmore apparently assume that in the domain of research, goals and execution of CRM and academic archaeology are identical: Good archaeology is good archaeology no matter what the venue. They observe that CRM archaeologists are often concerned with theoretical issues, and are frequently in the methodological vanguard.
In the final chapter, "Challenges to Archaeology," Sharer and Ashmore briefly discuss the history and legal framework for CRM in the United States, providing a list of major legislation through the Federal Reburial and Repatriation Act of 1990. However, they do not delve into the details of site evaluation, and say very little about relationships between agencies, contractors, SHPOs, and the Advisory Council; in fact, the Section 106 and 110 processes are not mentioned. The authors devote several pages to the ethical responsibilities of archaeologists in conservation, working with ethnic groups, archaeological training, public contact, and publication. Written before ROPA, SOPA gets a mention as the organization defining professional qualifications and standards.
Sharer and Ashmore voice their concern over the destructive effects on the archaeological record of looting and large-scale land modification, and discuss the need for effective legislative and ethical responses to these problems. They note that "salvage" efforts by individual archaeologists in emergency situations usually lack sufficient time and the means to result in effective research. In contrast, modern "contract archaeology," is explained as a kind of salvage project conducted in many countries to deal with cultural resources threatened by construction projects. As the usual arrangement in American CRM, an archaeologist, firm, or institution is contracted by the construction agency to deal with any cultural properties affected by the project.
Sharer and Ashmore take the opportunity to say that deficiencies of contract archaeology as practiced in the United States during the Great Depression, gave the enterprise a bad name, but that improved attitudes of archaeologists and better policies of sponsoring agencies have in recent years vastly improved the quality of such work. Research now has a higher priority than in the past, and allocations of time and funds are more realistic. The authors mention the "growing pains" caused by the growing Federal and State budgets for contract archaeology: A corresponding shortage of qualified archaeologists, occasional legal and ethical confusion, and questions about priorities and policies. Nevertheless, Sharer and Ashmore are encouraged by what they see as "the increasingly positive attitude of archaeologists toward contract archaeology and [CRM] as areas in which creative research can be carried out."
The authors extend the term "contract archaeology" to include salvage archaeology promoted by the national interests of sponsoring agencies. This, they caution, could result in lower quality research, stemming from priority for non-research concerns, or control of the project by the funding agency. From the text it is unclear whether this situation is more likely to be encountered in foreign countries with strong nationalist governments. Nevertheless, it is noteworthy that non-research concerns are frequently imposed on archaeological contracts let by U.S. Government agencies. Among those I have frequently encountered in my own practice are lack of choice in research area and/or sampling design (sample must be drawn to meet agency requirements), lack of choice in what sites will be intensively investigated (sites must meet government eligibility standards), lack of choice in data recovery methods (screen size, excavation strategy specified), and lack of permission to excavate burials if encountered. Of course, creative archaeologists try not to allow such restrictions to impede research. But we must not forget that nearly all archaeological research is government supported; if one takes the King's coin, one is subject to the King's whim.
Altogether, Sharer and Ashmore devote only about 6 of more than 600 pages to CRM. Since page counting was my first task for this review, I was prepared to be miffed at such "skimpy" treatment. Instead, I am pleased that the authors so obviously view CRM as: (1) generally a good thing that helps counter contemporary destruction of the archaeological record, (2) a fact of archaeological life world-wide, (3) a good venue for creative, cutting edge archaeology, and (4) a good career choice for archaeologists. The positive and optimistic tone of the authors with regard to CRM is worth many pages of less enthusiastic text. I suggest, however, that in future editions, some theoretical and methodological examples be drawn from CRM projects. There are none in the present edition.
Robert G. Elston is a contract archaeologist in Silver City, Nevada.
Archaeology, Third Edition. 1998 D. H. Thomas. Harcourt Brace.
Reviewed by Tony Klesert
David Hurst Thomas's Archaeology, Third Edition is an excellent, engaging introduction to the field, and an admirable choice to introduce college students to archaeology. The book is full of interesting historical accounts of archaeology, has well-presented discussions of theory and method, and is not afraid to tackle the practical and ethical dilemmas encountered by practicing professionals. He takes on the myths of archaeology and even provides extensive references to Internet web sites.
My task here is to review Thomas's treatment of CRM. Thomas alludes to CRM at several points in the book and then devotes an 18-page chapter explicitly to the subject: Chapter 20, "The Business of Archaeology: Caring for America's Cultural Heritage." This is an intriguing chapter, both in terms of what is included and omitted.
In his "Chapter Preview," Thomas emphasizes that the essence of contract archaeology is a "trade-off" between development and preservation. He also notes, and repeats later, that most professionals today work in some form of contract archaeology, because that's where the jobs and money are--an important message to neophytes (although he includes no CRM archaeologist in Chapter 1, "Meet Some Real Archaeologists"). Chapter 20 defines CRM and includes sections on the legal and competing cultural definitions of "significance," the fragmented nature of CRM in this country, the need for archaeological standards, a discussion of CRM as a career, the status of women in archaeology, educating CRM archaeologists, the use of avocational archaeologists, and "protecting the past for the future." There is even a sidebar on "the Indiana Jones myth."
While it is a good chapter, I was left with lingering concerns that the chapter could have been even better. Thomas includes some topics that, in fact, apply to the profession as a whole, rather than particularly to CRM, and seem out of place: "Women in archaeology" and "the need for archaeological standards" are foremost. These are issues of great importance and his discussions are quite good, but by presenting them in this chapter Thomas implies that these are problems with CRM, not with archaeology as a whole. This is, of course, incorrect. I would counter that both the increased inclusion of women and the elevation of professional standards have been possible because of CRM.
Thomas notes also that too many sites get excavated, quality control measures are often ineffective and unenforced, and work is therefore often poor. We know all these to be true, but again, all these problems exist in academe as well as CRM. Indeed, "an accepted code of archaeological ethics and standards of performance" (p. 564) has been needed all along, certainly not just since the inception of CRM, and the heightened public scrutiny of CRM is precisely what has inspired efforts to adopt such a code. Further, CRM's explicit conservation ethic is the chief motivating factor behind decisions to reduce the number of site excavations.
No fewer than three times in Chapter 20, Thomas criticizes the "competitive bidding" process in CRM. I think he actually intends to decry the abuses of competition: Low-balling and cut-throat practices, and myopic agency encouragement of bottom-line thinking at the expense of quality. But I wish Thomas had admitted that the same shady practices (and others) exist in the world of tenure, grantsmanship, and publish-or-perish, not just in CRM.
A final concern is that Chapter 20 is entitled "The Business of Archaeology," yet nowhere does Thomas discuss business per se. Thomas devotes a page to "educating our cultural resource managers," where he properly chastises academic institutions for not providing the proper practical training, but he never specifies what tools are required of a CRM archaeologist beyond "business and management skills." There is a good sidebar, by Robert Elston, that encourages students to learn all they can about management, conflict resolution, bureaucracies, expository writing, research design, and dealing with clients (to which I would add accounting and--the maligned-but-essential--art of competitive bidding). But this is just a brief sidebar--which too many students will ignore--on a subject that should be central to the chapter.
Perhaps for the Fourth Edition, Thomas could move the sections on women and standards to Chapter 21, "Archaeology's Unfinished Business," where they belong, making room for a three or four page discussion of "archaeology as business." Thomas's earlier chapters on "Doing Fieldwork" provide extensive concrete examples of how to conduct surveys, remote sensing, and excavations, and are a real strength of the book. He ought to apply that same level of presentation in Chapter 20 to such topics as requests for proposals, applying for permits, preparing research designs and budgets, recruitment, project organization, meeting deadlines, bookkeeping, legal compliance, public relations, the media, and so forth. These are as important to CRM as excavation methods.
It is in the nature of a review to focus on perceived weaknesses, and I have tried to point out the few I found. But in closing I must return to my initial assessment of the book as a whole, including its overall treatment of CRM. Thomas's style is open and appealing, his coverage is encyclopedic, and of particular strength, is his presentations of ethical and political issues, such as "who owns the past" and repatriation, from multiple points of view. His discussions of such contentious issues are enlightening and even-handed. Thomas's treatment of CRM is thorough, up to date, accurate and useful. If it was a movie, I would give Chapter 20 three stars out of four, and I do recommend Thomas's Archaeology for its lucid introduction to the practice of CRM.
Tony Klesert is director of the Navajo Nation Archaeology Department in Window Rock, Arizona.