Historical archaeologists study, interpret and preserve archaeological sites, artifacts and documents from or related to literate societies over the past 600 years for the benefit of present and future peoples. In conducting archaeology, individuals incur certain obligations to the archaeological record, colleagues, employers and the public. These obligations are integral to professionalism. This document presents ethical principles for the practice of historical archaeology. All members of The Society for Historical Archaeology (SHA), and others who actively participate in society-sponsored activities, shall support and follow the ethical principles of the society. All historical archaeologists and those in allied fields are encouraged to adhere to these principles. The SHA is a sponsoring organization of the Register of Professional Archaeologists (RPA). SHA members are encouraged to join the RPA and the SHA will use the RPA grievance process for ethics grievances.

Principle 1

Historical archaeologists have a duty to adhere to professional standards of ethics and practices in their research, teaching, reporting, and interactions with the public.

Principle 2

Historical archaeologists have a duty to encourage and support the long-term preservation and effective management of archaeological sites and collections, from both terrestrial and underwater contexts, for the benefit of humanity.

Principle 3

Historical archaeologists have a duty to disseminate research results to scholars in an accessible, honest and timely manner.

Principle 4

Historical archaeologists have a duty to collect data accurately during investigations so that reliable data sets and site documentation are produced, and to see that these materials are appropriately curated for future generations.

Principle 5

Historical archaeologists have a duty to respect the individual and collective rights of others and to not discriminate on the basis of age, race, color, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, marital status, place of birth and/or physical disabilities. Structural and institutional racism, male privilege and gender bias, white privilege, and inequitable treatment of others are prevalent and persistent issues in modern culture.  Historical archaeologists have an obligation to treat everyone with dignity and respect and to adhere to zero tolerance against all forms of discrimination and harassment.

Principle 6

Historical archaeologists shall not sell, buy, trade, or barter items from archaeological contexts.  Historical archaeologists shall avoid assigning commercial value to historic artifacts except in circumstances where valuation is required for the purposes of appraisal and insurance or when valuation is used to discourage site vandalism.

Principle 7

Historical archaeologists have a duty to encourage education about archaeology, strive to engage citizens in the research process and publicly disseminate the major findings of their research, to the extent compatible with resource protection and legal obligations.

See also the SHA Ethics Toolbox which lists seven tips on how to meet the SHA’s seven Ethics Principles Standards.

updated 12/2015