The Value of Preservation and the Cost of Archaeology

Very few archaeologists are actually prepared academically or emotionally to do ethnography, and mistakenly think that Public Archaeology simply means talking to people about what they are already doing. Even worse (but very common) is the attitude that Public Archaeology is pandering to local stereotypes about the past to provide entertainment and establish the archaeologist’s credentials or using simple-minded interpretations to teach patronizing “lessons,” usually about the importance of “preservation,” as defined by the archaeologist. The rare scholars who have attempted to collaborate with groups whose heritage is under scrutiny or who live near the sites where archaeologists want to work have found themselves without funding and bogged down in local politics. While there are no easy answers to dealing with backward funding agencies or highly charged issues, there is some faulty reasoning among archaeologists that can be confronted to address the lack of financial support. And there is a methodology pioneered in applied social science called Participatory Action Research that approximates the sort of ethnography that archaeologists need. In this paper I will discuss the ethical implications of archaeological research funding, the various meanings of Public Archaeology, and the use of Participatory Action Research to help us figure out what we ought to be doing.


One Response to “Pyburn, K. Anne”

  1. Cornelius Holtorf Says:

    Hi Anne,
    this sounds great and I think I share your underlying sentiment. But what I am uncertain about is to what extent your reference to “groups whose heritage is under scrutiny” applies to non-colonial situations, i.e. to Historical Archaeology or too most of European archaeology, for example. Who “owns” any particular heritage?
    Within Western societies, it is not all clear that people “who live near the sites where archaeologists want to work” should have any special rights compared with other people. Although I agree that the “local” perspectives need to be heard and taken seriously, I also acknowledge that their might be a role for specialists who work on behalf of larger constituencies. Do really all archaeologists “need” and “ought” to adopt Participatory Action Research strategies?
    This is not meant as a criticism but an angle I would like to explore further with you (and others). Best wishes, Cornelius

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