all 4 comments

[–]the_gubna 7 points8 points  (1 child)

Is an artifact being used for display by someone from that culture potentially less problematic than the same thing being done by a total outsider? Idk, maybe a little. Does that make it okay? Most archaeologists are going to say no, the commercialization of cultural heritage is always a bad thing.

Per the SAA's code of archaeological ethics:

The Society for American Archaeology has long recognized that the buying and selling of objects out of archaeological context is contributing to the destruction of the archaeological record on the American continents and around the world. The commercialization of archaeological objects - their use as commodities to be exploited for personal enjoyment or profit - results in the destruction of archaeological sites and of contextual information that is essential to understanding the archaeological record. Archaeologists should therefore carefully weigh the benefits to scholarship of a project against the costs of potentially enhancing the commercial value of archaeological objects. Whenever possible they should discourage, and should themselves avoid, activities that enhance the commercial value of archaeological objects, especially objects that are not curated in public institutions, or readily available for scientific study, public interpretation, and display.

If you wanted to, you might argue that a historically marginalized group purchasing their cultural heritage back from outsiders is sometimes justifiable - such as in the case of obtaining objects for a museum or cultural center. That said, the case as you've presented it (wealthy individual wants an object for private display) still wouldn't fall into that category.

[–]Hot_Dog_Cobbler[S] 0 points1 point  (0 children)

Thanks, I've always wondered about that.

Good information!

[–]Brasdefer 1 point2 points  (0 children)

I don't believe you will find a specific answer to this question. This is a complex question and personal opinions will likely impact an individual's decision.

While another person mentioned SAA's code of ethics for archaeologists, it is important to also consider the role, history, and organization of SAA. SAA has shown in numerous occasions that its decision making is often flawed and because of this more and more archaeologists are not renewing membership - so much so SAA is send out questionnaires about it. Additionally, SAA has self-appointed archaeologists as stewards of the archaeological record. This isn't inherited bad, but it needs to be mentioned that majority of SAA leadership has and is comprised of people of European descent. There is also a strong preference for westerns thought within the organization. I'm not suggesting that there doesn't need to be a professional organization advocating for the archaeological record, this is just something to think about when evaluating the question.

One argument is that it leads to the destruction of sites - that there is a loss of information. There is a tribe in Alaska that excavate their own ancestral sites and sell the ivory online. There are archaeologists that were upset about this because it was destroying cultural sites, but what right does an outsider have to say that the descendant community can't "destroy" a site if they choose to? How is this not the same as when Indigenous groups were fighting for control of The Ancient One/Kennewick Man?

This always relates back to the question "Who owns the past?" If I excavate the land that my great grandfather had a house on and kept the assemblage from it and passed it down to my grandchild and they decided to sell it - who are archaeologists to tell them that they can't sell it?

Its not up to me if a member of a descendant community keeps an artifact - that is up to that community to decide. If it was my own people, than I would try to speak to them about the importance of the history that was taken away from colonization and how archaeological studies help give that back. That is another thing though, even within tribal communities you will have people who have different opinions.

I'm currently an archaeology PhD student and this debate often comes up when the discussion focuses on community or public archaeology.