Tuesday 6 December 2011

Contract Archaeologists Take Note: You Can't Be Servants of Two Masters.

Without prejudice.

The news ticker caught my attention [yes, again!] with this article from Australia, which actually has international implications. In it the author refers to a documentary by the Yindjibarndi of Western Australia, their appeal to the relevant government ministry, and this letter attesting to some fairly shady practices on the part of a mining company.
     I've worked in the cultural resources management world in Canada and California, and I've seen it practiced in Australia. I've always had misgivings about the practical and ethical position of contract archaeologists working with would-be developers of culturally significant lands and the traditional owners of those lands, even if ostensibly under the auspices of a government licensing entity such as the Army Corps of Engineers. Even if no conflict of interest exists, the arrangement nevertheless invites criticism, because it's impossible to avoid the appearance of a quid pro quo  
     For my part it would be far more sensible if the funds to pay for archaeological assessments were to come out of an escrow account set up by a central agency, which would preclude arm-twisting of the kind demonstrated in this ongoing Australian case. It would also serve to reinforce in the minds of the traditional owners that there is no inherent conflict of interest on the part of archaeologists.


  1. Much like scientists who work for big corporations, it's hard not to be cynical and dubious.

  2. I have just handed in the report for my first consultancy which might be regarded as separate from my existence as an academic. It required me to get to know the heritage legislation relevant to the situation. I am far from convinced that it makes any difference how archaeological consultancy is done. There is always a let out clause which enables a political decision to be made which will negate any protection the heritage might have been expected to have. Your final point is absolutely correct, Rob, but I do not think it will make any difference. What is needed is a whole other approach to heritage archaeology--but that would be a different post.

  3. @Iain. I think we'd all be interested in hearing what you have to say. Perhaps you'd consider adding that 'different post' to your To-do List? [No pressure!]


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