Tag Archives: chaco canyon

“So, you dug it up and then you just reburied it?”

Last summer, I was involved in a small excavation in northern New Mexico for my dissertation project. When I give formal talks about our work, with lots of background information, people get excited about the research questions and how much we learned from just a month of work. At those times I feel like I’m making some progress as a public archaeologist, something that is very new to me. But in more casual conversations, it’s sometimes hard to get the excitement across. Folks are intrigued at first when I tell them we were excavating a thousand year old building that may have had as many as 100 rooms, but then I can see their interest dim a little as they realize how small our excavation actually was. It usually leads to two questions: First, “Are you going back next summer?”  Second, “Wait, so you just reburied it all at the end? Archaeologists understand that extensive, long-term excavations are neither necessary nor feasible in most places, that research funding is severely limited, that our labs are full of artifacts and samples that we may never have time to properly analyze, and that backfilling is the best way to preserve architecture and features. But that is [Read More]

Bears Ears and the Issue with Ownership

Howdy! This week I return to our “regularly scheduled programming” and discuss the issue of ownership in relation to archaeology and public lands. The question “who owns the past?” arises wherever there is contestation over cultural heritage between groups. Conversations about ownership have hinged on the ethical considerations surrounding portable artifacts, antiquities, and human remains. Examples include the return of the Euphronios Krater to Italy, the recent sale of Hopi Katsina friends (or masks) in a Paris auction house, England’s stubborn refusal to return the Parthenon Marbles to Greece, and the long controversy over the repatriation of the Ancient One (Kennewick Man). The ownership of portable cultural patrimony is a huge, fraught issue that isn’t going away. Dozens of books discuss cultural patrimony and ownership. However, the debate is a bit different when we talk about cultural sites and landscapes that cannot be moved (unless you’re Carmen Sandiego!). The issue of ownership is no less applicable in the case of cultural landscapes, though it is the ability to make decisions about management of particular places that is at stake. This is a lengthy post, so let me lay out a map on the hood of the truck and give you some directions. I am [Read More]