key concepts in public archaeology: the archaeological profession and human rights

Posted: 21/02/2017 in Research
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Human rights intertwine with archaeology around the work that is done, the material on which the work is done, the material that the work produces, the labourers who do the work and the communities amongst whom the work is done; equally, they intersect over the work that is not done, the material that is neglected, the narratives that are untold and the people who are marginalised.

I’m happy to say that I’ve contributed a chapter on the archaeological profession and human rights to key concepts in public archaeology, which is open access (OA), edited by Gabe Moshenska and published by UCL Press. (And he says that I don’t blog often enough, though he does have a proper job.)

Here’s the rest of the opening:

Insofar as it generates scientific data, cultural material and social understanding, archaeology produces, conserves, develops and diffuses objects of human rights – science and culture – and contributes to community life. Since they are acts of participation in and contributions to the cultural life of the community, archaeological practices themselves are objects of human rights claims. Furthermore, through its use in community development and social education, and through its use in mass grave excavations and other criminal investigations, archaeology can be an instrument for the realisation and enforcement of human rights.

Due to the conditions in which it is practised, and due to the nature and uses of its products, archaeology is also bound up with and set against other objects of human rights. It can be used to clear and claim territory. It can be used to consolidate structures of power and inequality. Professionals’ scientific practices can infringe upon communities’ cultural practices and cultural beliefs can interfere with scientific analyses. The provision and division of archaeological labour can exploit or exclude professionals for economic or political reasons, while the conduct of archaeological work can disadvantage communities. So, ethical archaeology requires a sensitive responsiveness to the civil and political, environmental, economic, social and cultural circumstances in which it is conducted.

This chapter will highlight historical interrelations between archaeology and human rights – the use of archaeology in struggles over rights and the assertion of rights over archaeology – then consider intersections between archaeology and affected people’s civil and political, social, cultural and economic rights. It will focus on the messy situations in which people’s access to their rights is impeded or prevented. A number of its examples come from the eastern Mediterranean, partly because of the author’s research area, but largely because there is such a wealth of public evidence of both the violation of professionals’ and communities’ rights and those professionals’ and communities’ resistance. By the end, the reader will have an overview of flash points in the ethical and political history of archaeology, a deepened understanding of ethical concerns regarding archaeological practice, and a greater ability to assess and manage the ethical challenges that are present in different circumstances.

Hardy, S A. 2017: “The archaeological profession and human rights”. In Moshenska, G (Ed.). Key concepts in public archaeology. London: UCL Press. Available at: [html]

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