An Argument for Ethical, Proactive, Archaeologist-Artifact Collector Collaboration

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An Argument for Ethical, Proactive, Archaeologist-Artifact Collector Collaboration

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American Antiquity


Pitblado, Bonnie L.

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CambridgeCore, JSTOR




Abstract: This essay addresses the contentious issue of collaboration between archaeologists and artifact collectors. I argue that in many instances, alienating members of the collecting public is not just bad practice; such alienation itself also violates the Society for American Archaeology's (SAA's) Principles of Archaeological Ethics. I make my case by first exploring the SAA's ethical code. I focus initially on “stewardship” and “commercialization,” which many cite as reasons for rejecting relationships with artifact collectors. I then discuss other SAA principles that support the perspective that archaeologists should actively reach out to citizens with private collections whenever possible. Second, I present a case study exploring what the Clovis archaeological record might look like had archaeologists rejected the overtures of a century of collectors who brought Pleistocene finds to the attention of professionals. Had practitioners accepted only those Clovis sites free of collector involvement, our understanding of Clovis lifeways would be quite different from what it is today. This essay has two messages. First, collectors can advance, and have advanced, archaeology by reaching out to archaeologists willing to reach back. Second, our own code of ethics suggests that responsibly engaging artifact collectors is not just “okay,” it is its own ethical imperative.

Additional tags: collaboration; artifact collectors; SAA Principles of Archaeological Ethics


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