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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 "amateurs."

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."