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by Joe Joseph, SHA President

I am two weeks into my term as SHA President and find in my in-box a bill in the Florida legislature that would allow anyone to obtain an archaeological permit to excavate and possess (and sell) artifacts from Florida state waters for a fee of $100 ; a bill in Wisconsin to allow a mining company to mine an American Indian effigy mound without regard for the presence human remains, due to its economic needs (http://savethemounds.com/); and in the UK the appearance of “Battlefield Recovery,” a resurrection of the “Nazi War Diggers” program that National Geographic created but pulled following archaeological outcry over the cavalier treatment of human remains (http://thepipeline.info/blog/2016/01/05/rolling-news-nazi-war-diggers-gets-uk-tv-debut-on-channel-five-as-battlefield-recovery/). The title has changed, but little else, certainly not the disregard for history and archaeology.

As I scroll through the SHA blog I find Charlie Ewen’s post of April 10, 2014, on National Geographic’s pulling of the Nazi War Diggers program, and his prophetic question – “So, mission accomplished. Or was it?” 

Now we know the answer.

I view these three actions as symptoms of a larger illness: a shift that we are seeing in politics and society that places an emphasis on the individual over community, on personal and corporate interests over the common good.

As historical archaeologists, we recognize the place of the collective, the role of community, the foundation of culture that supports the lives that individuals live. Unfortunately, that foundation is not widely acknowledged in a current society that rails against government without considering the personal consequences of its dismantling, and that emphasizes personal achievement to the extent that the inequity between the disenfranchised and the elite is at historic levels.

As I write letters I am reminded that we as archaeologists have an opportunity and responsibility to join in the conversation. The sites that we excavate speak to the human experience, writ large, where every life has meaning in telling the story of the past. History was once the possession and product of the elite. Historical archaeology is shared by all. The artifacts we encounter tell not only the story of global contact and interchange, but also of the reworking and repositioning of objects to reflect different cosmologies and cultures. And our jobs themselves are work done for the common good, not coin and currency, as all of us who are engaged in historical archaeology do so because we share in a need to bring the full picture of the past into present conversation, to write histories that would otherwise be unwritten.

Each of us has a role to play in this effort. Use social media and other avenues to oppose legislation and media that diminishes our sites and heritage. Reach out to your political representatives to let them know what you do and the importance of your work. But most importantly, use the sites and artifacts in your life and work to reach out to the public, to remind them that we are all part of a human continuum, that our appreciation of the past grounds us in the present, and that respect for the heritage of all provides us with the framework to build a better future.

The answer to Charlie’s question, quite simply, is that our mission is never done. It is why we do what we do.

Below, you will find the letters that have been drafted and sent regarding the Florida House Bill 803 and in support of our colleagues at the European Archaeological Association and Society for Post Medieval Archaeology regarding the Nazi War Diggers television show, on behalf of the SHA membership:

Representative Clay Ingram, Florida State Legislature

Society for Post Medieval Archaeology

European Archaeological Association