Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Ethics and archaeology Tricky Ethics
Archaeologists have a dark history. Dogged by their 19th century predecessors who thought nothing of essentially looting artifacts, exploiting First Nations people, ignoring laws regarding access to sites and grave robbing, today's archaeologists and anthropologists are still trying to repair their tarnished reputation.

So what to make of the story, recently published in the New York Times, of the "maiden, the boy, [and] the girl of lightning?" These children, ritually sacrificed 500 years ago on a volcano near the border of Chile and Argentina, were removed in 1999 by archaeologists. The cold, dry air in their burial chamber preserved them remarkably well; their features are as recognizable as the last open casket funeral you attended. After several years of extensive study and testing, a decision was made to display "La Doncella," the oldest of the children, at the Museum of High Altitude Archaeology in Salta, Argentina.

Doubtful they'll ever be returned because they'd be looted within a week, probably. Unfortunately, part of archaeology these days is getting the goods out before the looters do. Whether to display them is another issue. Whether to even look for them in the first place -- thus letting potential looters know where the stuff is -- might also be an issue.