Ethics: Who Decides?

Ethic – n. rules of behavior based on ideas about what is morally good and bad. (Webster’s online dictionary) And for our members across the pond, the Oxford dictionary defines ethic as a set of moral principles, especially ones relating to or affirming a specified group, field, or form of conduct (e.g. the puritan ethic was being replaced by the hedonist ethic).

As the outgoing chair of the Ethics committee and incoming president of the SHA, I have observed that few things are more likely to spark a visceral response in archaeologists than challenging their ethical interpretations. But where do our ethics come from? Are they the same for everyone? Are they unchanging?

Many years ago, while working at the Arkansas Archeological Survey, I was talking to its founder, Bob McGimsey, about ethics and Public Archaeology (how often do you get to ask questions of the man who coined the term?!). During the course of our conversation he related that SOPA (the Society of Professional Archaeologists) was founded because the SAA could not agree on a code of ethics and this was a way to get one formulated. It was only later that the major archaeological organizations finally adopted their own codes (based on SOPA’s). Shortly thereafter SOPA disbanded and later reconstituted as the RPA (Register of Professional Archaeologists).

So, our current code of ethics owes its origin to a handful of people, mostly in Arkansas, hammering out professional principles of behavior that the rest of the profession could not previously agree on. However, when you talk to the average archaeologist you get the sense that these principles are immutable. You certainly get that impression if you look at the Code of Conduct on the RPA website. There are many “thou shalls” and “thou shall nots”. The only thing lacking is these principles being carved in stone (I’m sure a good webmaster could whip that up).

However ethics, like the cultures that make them, are dynamic. The suspension of Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson over comments he made is evidence of changing moral values in this country. Changing views on sexual preferences are one thing, but are professional archaeological ethics as volatile? I show an episode of the original British “Time Team” to my historical archaeology class. It never fails to elicit gasps of outrage. “My God, they aren’t screening their soil!” Shocking that the British don’t see this as an issue.

However, we have bigger fish to fry these days. Controversial metal detecting shows that put $ values on artifacts. We expect it when we watch Pawn Stars or American Pickers, but somehow it doesn’t sit right when we are talking about artifacts out of the ground. Underwater treasure salvors who want to publish the site data before they sell it to finance further work. Should we let them or is this a slippery slope that leads to further destruction of sites? These topics and more will be addressed at several sessions at the meetings in Quebec (spoiler alert – Ivor Noel Hume will be commenting positively on the sale of redundant artifacts at the Ethics Panel on Friday).

I hope that everyone will avail themselves of the opportunity to weigh in on the current state of archaeological ethics; either by attending sessions at the meetings or weigh in on the blogs. But please, be civil, we all share the same passion: to know about the past. Let’s save our outrage for the unabashed looters of our heritage.

Last minute information for #sha2014: language, museums, ice hockey …

Vue de Québec 1851, William F. Wilson, Musée McCord, Montreal

We have had a few questions concerning language in Québec. Yes, French is the language spoken in Québec City! However, you will have no difficulty being served or getting directions in English! Do try using your French, it’s always appreciated. Have a look at this Youtube clip to see the differences between French as spoken in France and that spoken here in Québec: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dw5Re7k1KBA.

There will be simultaneous translation for the Wednesday evening opening ceremonies and plenary session (http://www.sha2014.com/events.html#content6). What does this mean for you? You will be able to pick up a headset at the entrance to the room by leaving an identity card that will be returned to you when you give the headset back. Remember that the opening ceremony begins at 6:00 PM in the Québec Convention Centre, so please show up a few minutes early to avoid the crowd.

Want to visit museums while in town? The national museum “Les Musées de la civilisation” has a special offer for conference attendees. Show your conference name badge at any of the three satellites of the museum and get a substantial reduction on the entrance fee. Full information is printed on the back of your conference name badge. You will be able to visit the “Musée de la place Royale” and see the incredible archaeological collections from this site. The “Musée de l’Amérique francophone” is currently hosting “La colonie retrouvée”, an exhibition about the 1534-1536 Cartier-Roberval site. The “Musée de la civilisation” has several permanent and visiting world-caliber exhibitions. Learn more about the fantastic exhibitions on the “Musées” web page: http://www.mcq.org/index_en.html.

Would you like to participate in a friendly US/Canada hockey tournament? It will be on Saturday evening, January 11, from 5:00 PM to 6:30 PM at the Parc de l’Esplanade outdoor rink on the rue D’Auteuil in the Old Town, just across from the “Assemblée nationale” (Parliament Buildings), but inside the fortification walls. Contact Antoine Loyer Rousselle for more information (antoine.loyer-rousselle.1@ulaval.ca).

The organizing committee is eagerly waiting for you. Have a safe and comfortable trip to Québec City!

#sha2014, Getting Ready for Quebec: Advice for Session Chairs


Here is the link to the conference website where you can find the final program: http://www.conferium.com/OLM/Prg_Present.lasso?showevent=361

Thank you again for organizing and chairing a session at the 2014 SHA meetings. As the conference draws near, we ask you to assist with final preparations.

Before your session starts:
– Know the a.v. requirements of your presenters. PowerPoint projectors and laptops are provided for all sessions. Please coordinate with session presenters to ensure that their presentations are loaded and working. SHA volunteers can help you with this if needed.
– All presenters should bring a flash drive containing the relevant file so that it can be uploaded to the computer before the session begins. Session chairs should check for compatibility issues between pc and mac versions of PowerPoint and for compatibility issues before the session begins.

During your session:
– Begin papers on time as scheduled in the program, remember they are 15 minute papers! If an author does not show up, wait for the next scheduled paper and encourage discussion. Please do not change the order of presentation or the scheduled start times for papers. Be prepared to facilitate the discussion period if there is a 15 min. break in your session.
– Have a watch or clock—Use it! Let your presenters know when they have 3 minutes, or that time is up. As time runs out, diplomatically inform the speaker that his or her time has expired, and request that the speaker conclude the presentation. Volunteers will provide you with prepared cue cards for 3 minutes and PLEASE CONCLUDE!

If you have any questions at all, please let us know ahead of time and we will provide what assistance we can. Thanks for working with us to make the meetings a success! Good luck with your session and we look forward to seeing you in Quebec City.

Programme Committee
SHA 2014