Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Bulldozing update There's been some commentary here regarding the use of heavy earth-moving equipment in archaeology. Seems to be second only to Oak Island in generating comments (I guess the next Internet sweeps week I need to post something about bulldozing Oak Island. . . .)

No, it's not something you'd ordinarily see on National Geographic, yes, sometimes (I don't think very often) it's used to remove uninteresting/not-significant deposits (itself a controversial topic), but no, it's not used all that often.

Ideally, if we had unlimited time and money, we could spend our entire careers carefully doing everything by hand trowel, dental pick, and the ubiquitous brush and thus never miss a thing. But, like everything, there are a thousand different priorities and proxies demanding we do this or that one way or another. Mitigation work has its own set of requirements -- time, money, results -- as does purely academic work. Funding institutions, whether private or public, have their priorities and demands, as do departments that require publications based on original research. It's not always a simple or easy decision to decide how to proceed.

It's tempting to get all Ivory Tower and just say "Trust us, we know what we're doing", but that just makes us look arrogant, and not terribly tactful politically, especially when we're feeding at the public trough. So, I for one welcome the criticism, if applied judiciously and politely (no complaints so far, y'all are remarkably civil for the Internets).

We may need more discussion within the ranks on conservation, which I've pointed out on several occasions. There's an awful lot of junk sitting in museum basements and countless storage buildings scattered around the world, and we still do destructive analyses that may not be warranted. In some cases, that "some day" everybody talked about coming when we could scan an object and see everything inside of it -- e.g., mummies -- without having to bust it open is here. Watching Zahi Hawass (not to pick on him personally) open an Egyptian sarcophagus on international television and while we watched have said mummy literally crumble to dust was an eye opener.

I'm not taking a position here. Really. (Really!) But asking the question and having to justify ourselves and our actions shouldn't be off limits.