Archaeology Today

May 24, 2002 • Volume 12, Issue 20
Does political correctness hamper discovery?
By David Masci

Introduction

A member of an archaeological expedition led by the late Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdahl examines a skeleton unearthed in Azov, Russia, in May 2001. Heyerdahl sought evidence that some Scandinavian kings originally came from the Russian port city 2,000 years ago. Fifty years ago, Heyerdahl crossed the Pacific on the reed-and-balsa raft Kon-Tiki to test a theory about the migration of early peoples.  (AFP Photo/Alexander Nemenov)
A member of an archaeological expedition led by the late Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdahl examines a skeleton unearthed in Azov, Russia, in May 2001. Heyerdahl sought evidence that some Scandinavian kings originally came from the Russian port city 2,000 years ago. Fifty years ago, Heyerdahl crossed the Pacific on the reed-and-balsa raft Kon-Tiki to test a theory about the migration of early peoples. (AFP Photo/Alexander Nemenov)

Archaeology has come a long way since amateurs began hunting for ancient treasure in the 18th century. Today's archaeologists employ scientific methods and technology ranging from DNA to ground-penetrating radar. But with the new methods have come new responsibilities. Modern archaeologists now must contend with the cultural sensitivities of native groups affected by their work, although some scientists say political correctness has carried the trend to unreasonable extremes. In addition, archaeologists worry about preserving sites from looting and development, and dig less extensively than they did in the past to preserve the integrity of sites for future researchers. Meanwhile, some archaeologists say the only way to stop the looting of ancient sites is to ban the trade in antiquities altogether.

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