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who owns paleontology?
Paleontologists--academic, amateur, and commercial--who have been
following the debates over Who Owns Paleontology might be interested to
know that a very similar controversy exists in a related field.
Debate over who owns the rights to find, dig, possess, and interpret
important relics from the past has been simmering and occasionally
boiling over in the field of archaeology.
Archaeology, like paleontology, also began with amateurs and has been
greatly advanced by independent workers, but was transformed into a
formal academic discipline with professional gate-keeping.
Archaeological artifacts are highly desirable to private collectors and
museums, with lucrative market in relics. Heated debate flares over
buying and selling artifacts and whether private owners allow
scientific access, who should control and publish ancient material, how
to deal with looters and the black market in artifacts, etc.
These debates have been occurring publicly in the pages of the popular
magazine Archaeology Odyssey, which acknowledges the value of amateur
and commercial participation in archaeology. Its rival is the magazine
Archaeology, put out by the academic Archaeological Institute of
America, which rejects all commerical archaeology and frowns on
Over the past 5 years Odyssey has published a series of fiery exchanges
btw the founder-editor Hershel Shanks and British archaeologist Colin
Renfrew on these issues. The editorial in this month's issue of
Archaeology Odyssey (May-June 2005) discusses the conflict between the
"professional elite" of archaeologists "who seem to think that they own
the past, as well as the privilege of speaking publicly about the
history of humanity." He notes that some academic archaeologists refuse
to supply photos of their digs for Odyssey's news reports because they
disagree with the magazine's approach to stopping looting. He concludes
that "professional arrogance" is just another "ugly manifestation of a
common occupational snobbery by archaeologists who consider themselves
the owners of history."