By: Stanley Frank
The purpose of archaeological research should be twofold- to use archaeological techniques and theory to uncover information about past human groups, and to convey that information to the interested public. Making the results of archaeological research inaccessible through paywalls, dense, jargon-filled writing, or even by simply not compiling and publishing the results of archaeological projects, [such as has occurred at Chetro Ketl in Chaco Canyon (“Chaco Sites” 2019)] negates the main point of conducting archaeological research in the first place. However, the vast majority of archaeological research remains inaccessible to non- professional archaeologists.
There is a pervasive, and not entirely undeserved, perception throughout the Southwestern United States that archaeologists are little better than pot hunters- sweeping in, removing all of the interesting artifacts, and sequestering them away in inaccessible museum collections, leaving the landscape bare, stripped of its history. This view is partially due to the often destructive and problematic historic (and sometimes not so historic) archaeological projects that have been conducted in the American Southwest, coupled with a lack of outreach on the part of current Southwestern archaeologists concerning the newer, less destructive approaches to archaeology that have begun to be broadly implemented. Archaeologists have been lax in their outreach for several reasons.
First is institutional: most archaeological research is conducted though academic or CRM channels, resulting in work that is not targeted towards the general public or descendant communities. Academic work is typically published in journals that require subscriptions to access and CRM “grey” literature is often not made accessible to groups not involved with the project. The second is more personal. Archaeologists can be more interested in conducting field work than analyzing and publishing the results of the work, and after writing for the required academic channels may not have time to or be interested in reconfiguring their work for a popular audience. And finally, archaeological research in the Southwest often has cultural and political implications, ranging from disturbance of sites of spiritual and cultural importance to descendant communities to land ownership and water rights. Archaeologists may limit the extent of their publications to avoid inflaming political tensions.
Fortunately, there has been a noticeable shift in attitudes among professional archaeologists over the past 10 years, with public outreach becoming more valued and practiced. This shift is encouraging but it will take a great deal more time and effort on the part of professional archaeologists to both change institutional attitudes towards public outreach and to connect with skeptical non-archaeologists, non-archaeological members of descendant communities, and other groups who have concerns about or who have been negatively impacted by archaeological research.
“Chaco Sites.” Chaco Research Archive Chetro Ketl Comments. Accessed June 29,