Archaeological Preservation

Preservation is, obviously, an essential part of archaeology; if artifacts aren’t preserved then archaeologists don’t have anything to study. There are many perspectives, ideologies, methods, and budgets that must be taken into account. The viewpoint that is most often thought about and highlighted is that of the academic. The academic perspective on preservation tends to run along the lines of everything should be preserved in a museum forever for future study. As a student this is the perspective I am most acquainted with but it is not the most relevant. The perspective of the indigenous group that the site in question actually belongs to is one that is often overlooked or dismissed by other stakeholders. It is extremely valuable and should be, at the very least, taken into consideration.

The indigenous opinion tends to be thought about as one homogenous outlook without considering the diverse opinions between and within each community. Each individual likely has a slightly different outlook on preservation. Through our work with the Tribal Historic Preservation Office I have learned about some of the strategies The Confederate Tribes of the Grand Ronde employ. Some of these methods include things like keeping sites private from the public, hiding sites in plain view, and turning them into tourist destinations for people to come and learn. These options are not always viable though. More often than not the tribe does not legally own the land the site is on. In these cases compromises must be reached but there is no guarantee that these arrangements will turn out in favor of the indigenous group. Many times the do not have any laws to use in their favor or the laws that can be used don’t have any way of being enforced.

Another issue that has become increasingly relevant is that of climate change. Sites will be degraded by natural processes but and sometimes that is something that you have to accept. Nature would take those sites whether humans were around or not. But with climate change that is being accelerated by human activity we are seeing some types of sites degrade at faster rates. For example rising sea levels submerge and destroy coastal sites and acid rain wears away at rock art and formations. This brings up the question of whether or not people have a responsibility to protect the sites that we are technically destroying. As a general practice I believe that we should look to the tribes that the sites belong to and work according to their wishes. While they may not be exactly sure either, letting them decide what the want and helping them make that a reality is the best way to go about it. It is their history, their culture, and their belongings.