Course Syllabus

Course Description

Archaeological practice raises profoundly challenging ethics issues. With the majority of employed archaeologists now working in culture resource management many find themselves caught between the goals and standards of their profession and the demands of diverse employers, oversight agencies, and stakeholders. Further conflicts arise between research goals and the commitments entailed by a conservation ethic; these are especially sharply drawn in debate about the professional use of looted or commercially traded material. But most urgent and most transformative are the issues of accountability raised by descendant communities, especially Indigenous, Aboriginal and First Nations communities who regard archaeological sites and artifacts as their cultural heritage and may see little value in archaeological research. So the central question we address in this seminar is: to whom and to what are archaeologists accountable? In particular:

  • What responsibilities do archaeologists have to those whose cultural heritage they study?
  • Do archaeologists have an obligation to protect the archaeological record – to “save the past for the future” – and how is this balanced against a commitment to the goals of inquiry?
  • Is it legitimate to work with looted and/or commercially traded archaeological material?
  • How should archaeologists navigate conflicts between the demands of those they work for and the range of other stakeholders to whom they are accountable?

 These questions are at the center of debates that are changing the way archaeology is practiced, so we address them through the analysis of cases juxtaposed with theoretical and philosophical literature on research ethics. To establish a framework for discussion we begin with readings that situate the development of archaeological codes of conduct, in particular, the SAA Principles of Archaeological Ethics, in the context of broader debate about research integrity and accountability in science and the professions. We then turn to case-based analyses of specific issues of accountability to see how principles of archaeological ethics play out in practice. In the mid-1990s by the Society for American Archaeology adopted an ethic of stewardship in response to these issues and is now initiating a process of review of these Principles. One central aim of this course is to assess stewardship ideals in philosophical terms and in relation to contemporary archaeological practice.


 Required and recommended readings include articles available through the course website on Canvas as well as selections from the following texts, available in the bookstore:  

  • Atalay, Sonya. Community-Based Archaeology: Research with, by, and for Indigenous and Local Communities. University of California Press, 2012. 
  • Zimmerman, Larry J., Karen D. Vitelli, and Julie Hollowell-Zimmer, eds. Ethical Issues in Archaeology. Walnut Creek: AltaMira Press, 2003.

Course Summary:

Date Details Due