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



4 THE STICK OR THE CARROT

What happens, though, when archaeologists do not follow the guidelines of the codes? What recourse would there be, for instance, if one learned that objects found on a given excavation were not receiving appropriate treatment? The SAA document, with its statement of maximal goals, leaves little room for enforcement. The RPA, on the other hand, explicitly describes its strictures as “minimum standards,” and integral to the organization is a grievance procedure designed to deal with alleged violations of those standards. The AIA also has a grievance procedure (AIA 1996), although there was considerable resistance to this within the Professional Responsibilities Committee on the grounds that grievances “could cause bad feelings” among the membership. It was finally agreed, though, that bad feelings were better than bad archaeology, and a procedure for reporting and resolving infractions of the codes was drafted. Even when such a procedure is in place, however, professional organizations do not carry a very big stick. The most they can do is to revoke the membership of the offending party. That might or might not be embarrassing, but it will not remedy the problem. The person in question can continue to carry out the project, whether it is well conceived and executed or not. Institutions with more direct oversight—like the American School of Classical Studies—can, however, refuse to seek renewal for a permit if an archaeologist's conduct is found to be below professional standards. The fact is, though, that both individuals and institutions are reluctant to point fingers and take steps to correct inadequacies. I know of only one case where formal complaints have resulted in a change of project direction, although I have heard of and observed many instances of poor archaeological practice, in terms of object conservation as well as in other facets of field archaeology.

Innovative use of the carrot may, however, be more effective than the stick, and in this area I can report a new initiative of the Archaeological Institute of America. In 1998 the AIA established its Archaeological Conservation Award. The honor is given on the basis of nominations solicited from the entire membership of the institute (AIA 1998). It can go to an individual, an institution, or an organization and recognizes excellence in any one of four areas: archaeological conservation, archaeological conservation science, archaeological heritage management, or the enhancement of public awareness of archaeological conservation through teaching, lecturing, exhibition, or publication. The recipients of this award will provide visible models, a more effective teaching tool, perhaps, than either lists of regulations or exhortatory principles. The AIA has further established a Conservation and Heritage Management Committee charged with the promotion of communication “between AIA and professional organizations dedicated to conservation” and with the promotion of “greater awareness of the central role of conservation in archaeological fieldwork” (AIA 1999, 18). In support of that second goal, the committee will organize colloquia on topics related to conservation for presentation at future annual meetings of the AIA.


Copyright 2001 American Institution for Conservation of Historic & Artistic Works