Sunday, April 5, 2009

Phil Duke on CRM

Many academic archaeologists have a very inadequate understanding of modern CRM. A good example is a recent radio interview given by Phil Duke of Fort Lewis College. In an interesting discussion of the geopolitics of archaeology, he was prompted at one point to comment on "the controversies surrounding Cultural Resource Management." His response reveals a profound misunderstanding of the contemporary practice of CRM in the United States. An excerpt:
The other downside that I would mention is that it has tended to divorce the archaeological enterprise from an intrinsic political consideration, or an ethical consideration, of the projects that they are actually helping clear. There is no integration ... of political or ethical considerations into the project itself. I don't want to paint the picture that the archaeologists doing this are unethical, quite the contrary, but there is no mechanism by which the political/ethical dialogue is insinuated into the project itself. The project is legitimate, it has been cleared by the Federal government, so that our responsibility, our ethical responsibility, is purely to the archaeological record.
Duke appears to be laboring under the significant misaprehension that CRM in the United States is purely concerned with the research value of archaeological sites. What he does not appreciate is that the contemporary practice of CRM requires extensive consultation with interested Native American groups, and others, concerning not only archaeological sites but also cultural landscapes and traditional cultural properties more generally.

Scientific value is only one criterion used to evaluate the significance of resources. There are other criteria of equal legal standing that relate to interest groups other than archaeologists. In the case of prehistoric sites, this normally means Native Americans. In fact, it seems to me that CRM archaeologists have more frequent, sustained, and meaningful contact with Native Americans than do academic archaeologists. Most contacts of this type, in the United States at least, take place in a CRM context, since consultation with Native Americans is a standard part of the Section 106 process. I'm not saying that this relationship is perfect, but there is a great deal of communication and consultation that takes place and CRM archaeologists clearly have responsibilities, legal and ethical, to peoples and things other than the archaeological record.

However, most of this work does not result in publication in journals and edited volumes, in part because Native Americans often prefer that the details of such consultation remain confidential. Perhaps this is why Duke is not aware of the extent of these relationships.

National Register Bulletin #38 would be a good place for him to start. He might follow that up by reading Tom King's blog.

The interview is here. The discussion of CRM begins near the middle, at 17:04.

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