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American view of Dull Archaeology

The curmudgeon factor is pretty high at any meeting of archaeologists. You've got a lot of smart people who spend years on their knees in the dirt studying tiny broken objects, and when they look up, they often notice how little anyone cares, and how wrong their colleagues are. They are trained to be precise, to get things right, and that leaves a lot of room for argument over interpretation. Is that a piece of stone, or a prehistoric tool fragment? Is that an Indian skeleton, or the remains of a prehistoric "caucasian" named Kennewick Man?

Such distinctions can have huge consequences: a highway built or not, history bulldozed or preserved, ancestors desecrated or honored, millions of dollars wasted, or made. Like any profession, there's frustration with the business itself. Most archaeologists are in the private sector, entrepreneurs with trowels. They make money being hired by other folks to meet the legal requirements for major projects.

Federal and state laws protect the environment, heritage, and historic sites, so there's money, sometimes millions of dollars for them, in public projects (like the Alaskan Way Viaduct Replacement Project, the 520 expansion, etc.). While far-thinking, these laws are rife with inherent conflicts of interest, or as archaeologist Thomas King put it the other day, the current system is "corrupt and useless."

Read the whole article here

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