Archaeology Essays Archaeological Excavation

Archaeology Essays Archaeological Excavation

Can archaeological excavation of sites not under immediate threat of development or erosion be justified morally Explore the pros and cons of research as opposed to rescue and salvage excavation and nondestructive archaeological research methods using specific examples

Many people believe that archaeology and archaeologists are mainly concerned with excavation with digging sites This may be the common public image of archaeology as often portrayed on television although Rahtz 1991 6586 has made clear that archaeologists in fact do many things besides excavate Drewett 1999 76 goes further commenting that it must never be assumed that excavation is an essential part of any archaeological fieldwork Excavation itself is a costly and destructive research tool destroying the object of its research forever Renfrew and Bahn 1996 100 Of the present day it has been noted that rather than desiring to dig every site they know about the majority of archaeologists work within a conservation ethic that has grown up in the past few decades Carmichael et al 2003 41 Given the shift to excavation taking place mostly in a rescue or salvage context where the archaeology would otherwise face destruction and the inherently destructive nature of excavation it has become appropriate to ask whether research excavation can be morally justified This essay will seek to answer that question in the affirmative and also explore the pros and cons of research excavation and nondestructive archaeological research methods

If the moral justification of research excavation is questionable in comparison to the excavation of threatened sites it would seem that what makes rescue excavation morally acceptable is the fact that the site would be lost to human knowledge if it was not investigated It seems clear from this and seems widely accepted that excavation itself is a useful investigative technique Renfrew and Bahn 1996 97 suggest that excavation retains its central role in fieldwork because it yields the most reliable evidence archaeologists are interested in Carmichael et al 2003 32 note that excavation is the means by which we access the past and that it is the most basic defining aspect of archaeology As mentioned above excavation is a costly and destructive process that destroys the object of its study Bearing this in mind it seems that it is perhaps the context in which excavation is used that has a bearing on whether or not it is morally justifiable If the archaeology is bound to be destroyed through erosion or development then its destruction through excavation is vindicated since much data that would otherwise be lost will be created Drewett 1999 76

If rescue excavation is justifiable on the grounds that it prevents total loss in terms of the potential data does this mean that research excavation is not morally justifiable because it is not simply making the best use of archaeological sites that must be consumed Carmichael et al 2003 34 Many would disagree Critics of research excavation may point out that the archaeology itself is a finite resource that must be preserved wherever possible for the future The destruction of archaeological evidence through unnecessary ie nonemergency excavation denies the opportunity of research or enjoyment to future generations to whom we may owe a custodial duty of care Rahtz 1991 139 Even during the most responsible excavations where detailed records are made 100 recording of a site is not possible making any nonessential excavation almost a wilful destruction of evidence These criticisms are not wholly valid though and certainly the latter holds true during any excavation not only research excavations and surely during a research project there is likely to be more time available for a full recording effort than during the statutory access period of a rescue project It is also debateable whether archaeology is a finite resource since new archaeology is created all the time It seems inescapable

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