E r i c  P e t t i f o r

Received from Clem Meighan (Clem_Meighan@bendnet.com), May 17, 1996 (printed here with permission)

Your discussion of the reburial business is well presented and covers most sides of the argument. I don't think your suggestions for analyzing and resolving the problems will work out because both sides are talking past one another and have basically different philosophies.

The comment that academic freedom gives no inherent right to do archaeology but merely the right to believe whatever archaeologists believe (i.e. no right to control actions of others) is exactly the argument that has been used about religious freedom. Under the first amendment one is free to believe whatever one wishes but cannot compel the actions of others in accord with one's religious beliefs. Reburial is an 'action' which is forced upon archaeologists based on professed Indian religion. I may respect Indian philosophy and even their beliefs about ghosts and spiritual punishments, but I am not obliged to believe in the "mummy's curse" nor to act in accord with the wishes of people who see no value in finding out about past history, including their own past history.

Archaeologists, like all other scientists and even humanists like historians, are obliged to preserve their evidence so that it can be re-examined and re-studied by others, often with new methods and techniques.

Without the collections, you have only an affidavit from the archaeologist which you can believe or not.

Collections such as Peking Man were destroyed before radiocarbon, amino acid studies, DNA studies, etc.; they can't contribute anything further to human evolutionary studies. If we had even a small piece of the bone, a great deal could be learned which will remain forever impossible unless somebody finds some more Peking skeletons (which hasn't occurred in the last 70 years and may never occur). This may be pleasing to those who believe that the bones of Peking Man are somehow sacred and that it is unethical to study them, but that is not acceptable to those who think that it is valuable to have objective evidence about past humans.

The Amer. Committee for Preservation of Archaeological Collections now has 1200 signed up members, in all states, Guam, Puerto Rico, and even Canada which does not have the legal or political system of the U.S. These people are dedicated to the notion that archaeological sites and collections are part of the heritage of the nation and belong to all the citizens.

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