As I begin my term as Chair of the Advisory Council on Underwater Archaeology (ACUA), it seems appropriate that my first blog as Chair would address some of the ethical considerations that have been the backbone of our actions in the past years, and that are the foundation of things to come over the next few years. Freshly accredited as a non-governmental organization (NGO) to the State’s Parties Scientific and Technical Advisory Board (or STAB) for the 2001 UNESCO Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage, the ACUA, along with the also accredited SHA, is now in a position to be even more proactive in defending the principles expressed in the Convention while continuing to uphold the ethics statements common to the ACUA and SHA.
The ACUA has stood as a bastion of ethical principles and as a strong voice for the protection of underwater cultural heritage for decades. Like any organization our methods and members have evolved over time, but our interests and core beliefs remain the same. It has been suggested that ethics are not carved in stone, and I would agree that our discipline has a greater need for ethics that evolve as our understanding of the field evolves and as new technologies take us to places that were thought inaccessible only a few years ago. This is not to say, however, that overarching ethics are somehow changeable from one season to the next. Rather, our ethics are refined as we better focus on what we as a discipline agree are appropriate boundaries.
Fifty years ago our understanding of what was possible underwater was in its early stages. Large scale excavations were underway and as our abilities underwater began to approach what could easily be done on land, archaeologists started to see a need for a code of ethics. Then, as now, the lure of buried treasure excited the public imagination. If we, as archaeologists were to provide the real, compelling, and fascinating stories behind submerged sites we needed to define what made us so different from deep sea treasure salvors.
One of the many ways we as archaeologists have defined ourselves is through our ethics statements (http://www.sha.org/about/ethics.cfm). We have declared that the commercial exploitation of cultural heritage, whether on land or underwater, is inconsistent with the practice of professional archaeology. We have codified this stance in the Society for Historical Archaeology’s (SHA) Ethics Statement, and supported its inclusion in the Annex of UNESCO’s Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage (http://www.unesco.org/new/en/culture/themes/underwater-cultural-heritage/2001-convention/annex-of-the-convention/). The Annex clearly states in Article 2.7 that “underwater cultural heritage shall not be commercially exploited.” The ACUA and SHA not only support the endorsement and adoption of the Annex as best practice, but actively support ratification of the Convention around the world.
Indeed, the ACUA and the SHA feel so strongly about the Convention that both pursued and received accreditation as NGOs to the State’s Parties Scientific and Technical Advisory Board (or STAB). In this NGO role, along with our other international partners the ACUA and SHA are working actively to promote archaeological ethics above and below the waterline.
Ethics are still an important, and often hot button discussion point among both terrestrial and underwater archaeologists. Our concerns as a field deal with issues that confront us every day: the impact of metal detecting reality television programs that purport to show real archaeology; curation and collections issues that confront us as budgets shrink and collections grow; and a discussion about the role of marine archaeology in places where underwater cultural heritage is still being commoditized.
The SHA continues to work on defining the discussion in regards to curation and reality television series. The ACUA and the SHA, however, continue to find the commercial exploitation of cultural heritage incompatible with the practice of archaeology regardless of whether that cultural heritage is submerged or not.
Unfortunately it is a simple fact that it takes years to build a reputation of integrity and a single event to undermine that earned reputation and trust. Our ethics provide us a touch point to guide our actions. The Society for Historical Archaeology adopted its most recent ethics statement in 2003; the ethics statement was supported by the ACUA and approved by a vote of the entire SHA membership. The first article in the Ethics Statement, Principle 1, states that “Members of the Society for Historical Archaeology have a duty to adhere to professional standards of ethics and practices in their research, teaching, reporting, and interactions with the public.” For a maritime archaeologist Principle 1 is an explicit reminder of the need to abide by and support the ethics of our profession in order to separate ourselves and our actions from those of commercial salvors. While it is unfortunate that archaeologists must still educate the public (including legislators and even other scientists) about the differences between professional archaeology and treasure hunting, our adherence to a code of ethics serves as a very public declaration of our intents and methods. If in doubt, SHA’s Principle 6 states: “Items from archaeological contexts shall not be traded, sold, bought or bartered as commercial goods, and it is unethical to take actions for the purpose of establishing the commercial value of objects from archaeological sites or property that may lead to their destruction, dispersal, or exploitation.” In the past, this principle helped the underwater community to hold the line against treasure salvors, but in recent years this principle has become a stronger and stronger statement against the exploitation of cultural heritage.
The Register of Professional Archaeologists (RPA) in its Code of Conduct (http://www.rpanet.org/displaycommon.cfm?an=1&subarticlenbr=3) states unequivocally in Section 1.2.e “An archaeologist shall not: Knowingly be involved in the recovery or excavation of artifacts for commercial exploitation, or knowingly be employed by or knowingly contract with an individual or entity who recovers or excavates archaeological artifacts for commercial exploitation.” If our professional ethics and codes of conduct are ever evolving, the SHA and RPA guidelines provide a road map of where we have been and where the road might lead.
Since January 2, 2009 with the entering into force of the Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage the international community and our partners have begun to affect a paradigm shift that would have been unimaginable a decade ago. Legislation in the United States, and internationally continues to evolve in recognition of our understanding of the value of our archaeological sites. While a vocal minority continues to lobby for treasure salvors, and commodification of our cultural heritage, the solid scientific work of our colleagues around the globe continues to demonstrate the validity of our ethical stand. SHA and ACUA are not alone in this stance. The American Anthropological Association, in its Statement on Ethics, maintains that the conservation, protection and stewardship of the archaeological record is the principal ethical obligation of archaeologists (http://www.aaanet.org/profdev/ethics/upload/Statement-on-Ethics-Principles-of-Professional-Responsibility.pdf). While numerous other organizations, such as the Society for American Archaeology, Institute for Archaeologists, and Archaeological Institute of America, maintain similar prohibitions against the commercial exploitation of cultural heritage we cannot become lax in our own standards. We must remain firm in this ethical stand against the selling of cultural heritage if we are to preserve the rights of people everywhere to study and protect their own past.
Ultimately, we as archaeologists have created something remarkable, something that good ethics can create regardless of whether you work under the water or on land – common ground. Terrestrial archaeologists and conservators find themselves in agreement that the commercialization of cultural heritage is not only wrong but unethical. To me, this signifies great hope and proof that over the last 51 years the ACUA has provided a voice for the underwater field, and continues to remain relevant today.
If ethics are the rules we follow in our professional lives, then we must continue to refine our code of ethics must to address new challenges to the profession, while also remaining truthful to the principles and objectives expressed by our professional peers. The ACUA is working to ensure that we remain the voice of our underwater colleagues, and the bulwark against those who seek to destroy archaeological sites and commercially exploit cultural heritage. It is my hope as we go forward that you will share your thoughts and concerns with us so that we can continue to support your work. It is our job as archaeologists to advocate for one another, and the protection of all cultural heritage whether on land or underwater.
Chair, Advisory Council on Underwater Archaeology
To share your thoughts about this blog or suggest a topic contact the ACUA]]>
By Brian Jordan (BOEM) and Ole Varmer (NOAA)
The protection and management of UCH is a challenging topic that involves the interplay of United States (U.S.) statutes, maritime law, international law, and often complex issues regarding what law applies when and against whom it may be enforced. At the same time, there is ongoing risk from activities that may directly or indirectly destroy UCH, such as unscientific salvage or looting, energy development, dredging, and bottom trawling. No single statute comprehensively protects UCH from all of these human activities. Sorting through all of these complexities, until now, has been daunting at best. A partnership between BOEM and the Department of Commerce (DOC) has produced new tools and a new website to address these issues.
In January of this year the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) published the Underwater Cultural Heritage (UCH) Case Law Study prepared by DOC’s International Section of the Office of General Counsel in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The UCH Law Study and the corresponding website are the brainchild of Brian Jordan (BOEM), and was funded by BOEM to assist in understanding the current levels of legal protection for UCH discovered on the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf (OCS).
The case law study provides an analysis of existing laws protecting UCH on the OCS, identifies gaps in protection, and provides three recommendations on how to address those gaps, including proposals to amend the Archaeological Resources Protection Act and/or the National Marine Sanctuaries Act. The study was accomplished through a partnership with Ole Varmer (NOAA) and troops of interested partners within the Department of Commerce and NOAA.
The NOAA Coastal Services Center developed the Ocean Law Search website and database as part of the study, which contains a copy of the final study, summaries of the statutes and key cases related to UCH Law Study, as well as links to the various bills, reports, and other documents describing the legislative histories of the more relevant statutes. These tools were developed for use by practitioner of law, history, archaeology, students and others interested in preserving our underwater cultural heritage for present and future generations. We hope that this study and website will be a useful new tool in that effort.
To share your thoughts about this blog or suggest a topic contact the ACUA]]>
For this entry in the ACUA blog series Deep Thoughts we’d like to direct your attention to the Lawyers Committee for Cultural Heritage Preservation (LCCHP). This blog post, written by Laura Gongaware and Ole Varmer, addresses the issue of ethics in archaeological exhibitions. Laura’s introduction below provides a summary of this timely topic. For the full text of this blog, follow the link below.
Since the Smithsonian’s announcement last fall that its Freer-Sackler Gallery was to host an exhibit including artifacts from the Belitung shipwreck, the Smithsonian has found itself at the center of controversy. In 1998 when the Belitung wreck was discovered by local fishermen, the Indonesian government hired the commercial salvage company, Seabed Explorations, to salvage the wreck and eventually sold the collection to the government of Singapore for exhibition in a permanent museum. As such, the proposed exhibit raises several ethical and legal issues that the Smithsonian has been forced to address.
The current status of the planned exhibition is still uncertain. In the August edition of Science Magazine, the Smithsonian’s Secretary Dr. Wayne Clough said that “as it stands now, th[e] exhibit will not come to the United States.” Clough went on to say that as a result of this decision those who could have learned from the exhibit will now learn nothing, and he believes that the issues raised by this exhibit need to be thought about from a practical point of view. The Lawyers Committee for Cultural Heritage Preservation has recently posted a new blog which will discuss the legal implications of the Belitung shipwreck exhibit and begin to answer the questions raised by Clough’s announcement, particularly what is best for this cultural resource.
For the full text of this blog: http://www.culturalheritagelaw.org/blog?mode=PostView&bmi=676757
N.B. An August 5, 2011 Science Magazine interview with Smithsonian Secretary Dr. Wayne Clough revealed that the Belitung exhibit was cancelled, and not merely postponed as the SI press releases first indicated. For the full text of that interview: http://www.sciencemag.org/content/333/6043/694/suppl/DC1]]>
As part of the advising mission of the Advisory Council on Underwater Archaeology, we have developed an Underwater Archaeology Ethics Press Kit (PDF). This document is intended to answer and clarify some of the most common questions and misconceptions pertaining to underwater archaeology. Presented in short, concise “sound bites” of information, the kit is meant to be a resource for journalists, reporters, and others needing accurate information about the goals and purposes of scientific archaeology in a submerged environment.
Historic cannon from the 1733 Spanish Plate Fleet wrecked in the Florida Keys. Salvaged by treasure hunters in the 1970s and never conserved, it now is rotting on the roadside. (photo by author)
The kit grew out of a regular discussion topic among the members of the ACUA. Over the years we all have been approached by television reporters and newspaper journalists covering stories on shipwreck discoveries and treasure hunting. In most cases, they didn’t understand the difference between legitimate archaeology and commercial exploitation of the underwater cultural heritage.
And really, there’s no reason they should understand the difference. They didn’t go to school to be archaeologists, and for years the media has painted treasure hunting and scientific research with the same brush. Archaeologists have, overall, not focused as much as they should on educating the public about the value of and need for heritage study and preservation, whether on land or under water. The result is the vast majority of the public gets everything they know about archaeology from Indiana Jones and they think that what he does is, in fact, archaeology (not that I’m knocking Indy for sparking interest in archaeology, but honestly, aliens with crystal skulls? that’s just sad).
The further result is that companies engaged in the commercial exploitation of shipwrecks for financial gain can hire people they call “archaeologists” to “oversee their work” or to “use archaeological methods” and the public doesn’t know the difference. The reality is these “archaeologists” cannot be listed on the Register of Professional Archaeologists because they engage in the destruction of our heritage for commercial reward. Their work is driven by profit rather than by legitimate research needs and they are destroying information and knowledge about our maritime past in the process.
We hope the Ethics Press Kit will prove useful for reporters, students, interested members of the public, and those wanting to learn more about the foundation and purpose of archaeology. It’s not the things we find, after all, it’s what those things can tell us about the people who made and used them. An anchor in its original location on a shipwreck can tell us whether the ship wrecked while moored or while sailing, and if the sailors tried to save themselves or if they were taken unaware. An anchor in front of a bait and tackle store tells us nothing except that iron rusts. If you’re a diver, would you rather see that anchor on a shipwreck, covered in coral and surrounded by fishes, still in place where it fell on the sea floor? Or would you rather see it rotting away on the roadside? Ultimately, it’s up to us – all of us, not just archaeologists and cultural resource managers – to decide what is an acceptable fate for the relics of our heritage.
Dr Della Scott-Ireton
Northwest Region Director
Florida Public Archaeology Network
To share your thoughts about this blog or suggest a topic contact the ACUA]]>