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  Managing Archeological Collections 3. Laws, Regs, Policies, and Ethics Distance Learning
 

Ethics

(photo) Boxes of improperly mixed glass, ceramic, and metal artifacts.
Improper mixing of artifact types of materials in the field, which can lead to significant damage before arrival at the lab. Photo courtesy of Alexandria Archaeology, City of Alexandria, Virginia.

Codes of professional ethics or ethical standards have been developed and endorsed by major international archeological and anthropological associations over recent years. Archeologists have a responsibility to uphold professional ethics in their work because they outline sound professional practice. Ethics also highlight what ought to be done for the benefit of the resources, not just what is legally mandated. It should be noted that, while the wording of the ethics discussed below may vary in detail and emphasis, all professional societies for archeology address curation and collections management in some way.

The Society of Professional Archaeologists (SOPA), now the Register of Professional Archeologists (ROPA), was probably the first organization to address curation and professional standards in its "Standards of Research Performance", issued in 1981. These standards stated, in part, that the "research archaeologist" has a responsibility to "ensure the availability of adequate and competent staff and support facilities to carry the project to completion, and of adequate curatorial facilities for specimens and records;" and "specimens and research records resulting from a project must be deposited at an institution with permanent curatorial facilities, unless otherwise required by law."

ROPA's current Standards of Research Performance cover key professional responsibilities related to the recovery, preparation, and long-term management of collections. These are:
I.4   Ensure the availability of adequate and competent staff and support facilities to carry the project to completion, and of adequate curatorial facilities for specimens and records;
IV.   During accessioning, analysis, and storage of specimens and records in the laboratory, the archaeologist must take precautions to ensure that a correlation between the specimens and the field records are maintained, so that provenience, contextual relationships, and the like are not confused or obscured.
V.   Specimens and research records resulting from a project must be deposited at an institution with permanent curatorial facilities, unless otherwise required by law.

The Archaeological Institute of America (AIA) addresses the issue in their code of professional standards passed in 1994. The "Responsibilities to the Archaeological Record" section states that archaeologists should "anticipate and provide for adequate and accessible long-term storage and curatorial facilities for all archaeological materials." As well, "All research projects should contain specific plans for conservation, preservation, and publication from the very outset."

The Society for American Archaeology (SAA) developed a very specific ethical principle for curation when the SAA Principles of Archaeological Ethics were issued in 1996. Principle No. 7 (Records and Preservation) states, in part, that "archaeologists should work actively for the preservation of, and long term access to, archaeological collections, records, and reports."

The Society for Historical Archaeology (SHA) mentions curation in their current code of ethics. Perhaps of more importance, it is the only international society with guidelines for curation for its membership. These guidelines, passed in 1993, are in accordance with 36 CFR 79, but provide more detailed consideration of some practical issues of collections management. These include artifact cleaning and labeling, storage recommendations, documentation, repository specifications, and deaccessioning.

The American Anthropological Association (AAA) does not address the management of archeological or anthropological collections in its current ethics statement. The association has, however, identified the need for revision of their ethics statement to include, among many other issues, mention of collections care.

As a final note, archeologists should be aware of the codes of ethics developed and endorsed by the societies and organizations of the museum profession, including curators, conservators and archivists (see the Links page of this section). For example, the American Association of Museums (AAM) does not specifically address the management of archeological collections in its current ethics statement dated 2000. However, it does consider many basic collections management issues, including protection, documentation, acquisition and disposal, access and use, and ownership that are applicable to archeological collections. The AAM and other codes also provide insights into the ethical issues and challenges faced by museum professionals, such as appropriate treatment, donor restrictions, access restrictions on sacred materials, personal collecting, and many others.

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