A Guide to Archaeological Ethics

In 1996, the Society for American Archaeology adopted a set of principles regarding the behavior and work ethics of those involved in the field of archaeology.  According to the Society for American Archaeology, these were laid out in eight basic principles that the Society strongly recommends.

Principle one – deals with stewardship, and the necessity of keeping accurate records, one of the first and most important aspects of any archaeological project. Without these records, valuable information may be lost that will effect future investigations. It also deals with encouraging the public to respect records and preservation methods.

Principle two – deals with accountability. This is the practice of working with others, cooperation among groups, and benefiting all parties involved in any particular project.

Principle three – deals with a subject that has been a problem for archaeologists for decades. Commercialization of valuable artifacts is discouraged, certainly within the archeological community, and in the private sector. It is recommended that commercialization of any site, project, or artifact be basically down played and that no project be promoted for its commercial worth.

Principle four – deals with public education and outreach. Archaeologists are encouraged to cooperate with others who are interested in the archaeological record and to enlist their help in preservation. Students, teachers, native cultures, the media, and the general public all share an interest in archaeological discoveries either for their own personal heritage, religion, or simply from a historical interest point of view. It is up to the archaeologist to promote this interest and work with others who have a personal interest in their finds.

Principle five – deals with the subject of intellectual property and  the archaeological record as personal property. The records of any one archaeologist are to be treated with the principles of stewardship rather than personal property. While they may have primary access to their own original materials for a time, in the long run, all their findings must be shared with others.

Principle six – is all about public reporting and publication of findings. All archaeological records should be presented to the public as quickly as possible, and records should be kept in some permanent and safe place. However, the archaeologist should also help to maintain the site of the research when disclosing any and all information.

Principle seven – also deals with records and preservation and the need to encourage colleagues and others to use records and reports in their research.

Principle eight – is about training and resources. This is to ensure that every archaeologist has the proper training to investigate a site in a responsible manner, by using all the recommended principles and in a professional and careful manner.

Thanks to the Society, and the more professional and respectful attitude of today’s archaeologists, sites are researched more thoroughly without destroying the surrounding terrain, the public is better informed, and all those that have an interest in the findings are respected.