Environment

Rescuing Archaeologists

Collide-a-ScapeBy Keith KloorApr 15, 2009 8:53 PM

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How's this for a bewitching paradox: the global economic meltdown is good for archaeology, bad for archaeologists. Huh? Consider this truism, as stated in a recent article in Antiquity, a UK journal:

The principal threat to the archaeological resource is and has been land use change through development, primarily for housing and infrastructure.

So it follows that a screeching halt in the construction of houses and shopping centers is good for archaeological preservation. But since most archaeology gets done because of this development, that means archaeologists are going begging. That's right, the field of archaeology is just as vulnerable as everyone else to economic boom and bust cycles. The Antiquity article by Kenneth Aitchison discusses the dilemma and possible solutions. It's a must read for commercial archaeologists in the U.S.-- those excavators and surveyors for hire that belong to a private industry otherwise known as Cultural Resources Management (CRM). Here's the problem:

Given archaeology's relationship with construction and development, it would appear that the only prospect of an improvement in the industry's situation will be through a revival of that sector.

That's not happening anytime soon. But Aitchison sees a silver lining for CRM archaeologists who want to stay gainfully employed until the economy bounces back:

The quantity of archaeological work undertaken over the last two decades has been driven by the mantra of 'preservation by record'. This has meant that as sites have been excavated, the archaeological resource has been transformed into data. We may be able to treat the reduction in the amount of fieldwork being undertaken as an opportunity to take stock of the data that we have accumulated and to think synthetically and strategically about converting that data into better understanding of human lives in the past.

Now that's what I call Rescue Archaeology.

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