THE ETHICAL DILEMMA FACING CONSERVATION: CARE AND TREATMENT OF HUMAN SKELETAL REMAINS AND MORTUARY OBJECTS
GAYS S. McGOWAN, & CHERYL J. LaROCHE
5 PROFESSIONAL IMPLICATIONS
Frequently, conservators must contend with time constraints and budgetary demands inherent in archaeology conducted under the auspices of section 106 of NHPA. Therefore, optimal conservation and archaeological practices often must be compromised, sometimes to the detriment of the resource. More often than not, archaeological sites do not receive an adequate level of attention and are minimally sampled or investigated. Whatever the constraints, we argue that the disciplines of archaeology, physical anthropology, and conservation have an all-encompassing responsibility to pay attention to the spiritual aspects during excavation and subsequent study.
Current reinterpretation of section 106 pertaining to cultural resource management may further diminish the archaeological resources available for study. Given this potential situation, when conservators are included in the recovery process it is incumbent upon our profession to endorse the proper handling of corporeal materials in the language of the Code of Ethics as well as to provide collegial support for the community of conservators concerned with such issues (Koob 1995).
It is clear that in the present political environment, the anthropological profession can no longer afford to insist on the strictly scientific approach to human bone for the sole purpose of data recovery that has traditionally characterized the discipline. While the profession has customarily viewed itself as possessing sole domain over the care, treatment, and disposition of human remains, this approach is no longer viable, for it provides no ethical or spiritual accountability, issues central to repatriation and reburial. Reinterment, repatriation, and deaccessioning currently are among the most daunting concerns within the philosophical debate. These issues highlight the differing philosophical approaches that complicate systematic treatment strategies.
While the Society for Historical Archaeology, the Society for American Archaeology, and the American Anthropological Association, among other professional associations, have discussed these issues, the silence of the conservation community has been conspicuous. Many museums and institutions, however, have also been forced to face some of these issues because of the requirements associated with repatriation (Monroe and Echo-Hawk 1991).