JAIC 2001, Volume 40, Number 2, Article 5 (pp. 137 to 146)
JAIC online
Journal of the American Institute for Conservation
JAIC 2001, Volume 40, Number 2, Article 5 (pp. 137 to 146)

ARCHAEOLOGISTS ON CONSERVATION: HOW CODES OF ARCHAEOLOGICAL ETHICS AND PROFESSIONAL STANDARDS TREAT CONSERVATION

SUSAN I. ROTROFF



3 RESEARCH INSTITUTIONS

The professional organizations discussed above are, in fact, somewhat removed from the day-to-day practice of archaeology. They themselves usually do not sponsor excavations or surveys directly (although some have done so in the past), and all are voluntary associations that an archaeologist may or may not choose to join. Other organizations, however, are closer to the actual fieldwork and are therefore in a position to have a significant impact on the way that fieldwork is conducted. These are the various research institutions through which much archaeological research is conducted outside of the United States.

One such institution is the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA). In Greece, all fieldwork by non-Greeks must be carried out under the auspices of a national school—in the case of Americans, the American School. In the eyes of the Greek government, the school is responsible for the conduct of those projects, and if that conduct is deemed inadequate, it is the school that will be held accountable. It is therefore necessary for the school to regulate and monitor American projects in Greece, an obligation it performs primarily through its Excavation and Survey Committee. While permits are issued by the Greek state, American archaeologists must apply first to the committee, a body of four elected and three ex officio members, all individuals with extensive archaeological experience in Greece and elsewhere. The committee has prepared a four-page document (ASCSA 1997) to guide researchers in the preparation of their applications. Conservation is mentioned explicitly only once, in a discussion of the detailed budget that must accompany the application; researchers are reminded of a stipulation in Greek Law 5351/32 that mandates that the project “pay for … the conservation of the uncovered remains, the support of walls, the filling of pits, or the drainage of water.” The language of that legislation suggests a concern with conservation of the site itself rather than of objects excavated from it. Applicants must also, however, ensure the safe storage of artifacts and must submit a detailed research plan, including a list of all personnel and their qualifications, as well as a description of permanent storage facilities. The absence of provisions for proper archaeological conservation in such an application is unlikely to go unremarked, and the Excavation and Survey Committee does not hesitate to demand revisions to research plans before granting its approval. It is important to note that codes and standards can go only so far. It is impossible to legislate for every eventuality, and vigilant human oversight is an all-important safeguard.

The American School has recently accepted a report from the Ad Hoc Committee on Site Stewardship (ASCSA 1999), which was created to deal with a range of issues involving intellectual property, conservation, and publication. The report is not a binding document but was written to guide the school in the regulation of excavation and survey projects carried out under its aegis. Conservation is mentioned twice. “The School has the right …,” the report reads, “to refuse to renew a permit when proper procedures have not been followed or certain specific requirements (for example, for storage or conservation) have not been met.” Conservation also figures in a list of the responsibilities of project directors, which “would normally include arrangements for excavation or survey, storage, archives … site and object conservation, and publication.”

A similar organization, which oversees American fieldwork in Israel, Jordan, Cyprus, and Syria, is the American Schools of Oriental Research (ASOR), which adopted its Policy on Preservation and Protection of Archaeological Resources in 1995 (ASOR 1995). ASOR, too, makes stewardship central to its code. Archaeologists should be “both caretakers and advocates” for the archaeological record, that is, for sites, collections, records, and reports. In the brief Section IV of the Policy, devoted to excavation standards, proper curation of records and collections is specifically mandated. There ASOR also invokes “the review process of its Committee on Archaeological Policy” as a watchdog to ensure “that excavations are conducted according to the highest possible professional standards.”The committee has in turn drafted a more detailed document (ASOR n.d.) governing standards, procedures, and guidelines for projects carried out under ASOR's aegis. In Section I of this document,“conservation by qualified personnel” for all archaeological materials recovered is mandated.


Copyright 2001 American Institution for Conservation of Historic & Artistic Works