fws final 11-30-07 - November 30, 2007 Anthro 125 History...

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November 30, 2007 Anthro 125 History or Ancestry? The question of who owns the past has been hotly debated for years, especially in North America. Many groups lay claim to the remnants of the past, from archaeologists promoting the good of science, to Native Americans fighting to protect their heritage. Who indeed owns the past? Native Americans say that any American Indian remains in the ground are the ancestors of today’s Indians, and so are not to be desecrated with archaeological study. Respect for the dead and for one’s ancestors is an important part of many Native American cultures, whose descendants lobby fiercely for the return of their ancestors to the earth. The archaeologists, on the other hand, rebut that they do their work out of an honest interest and deep respect for Native American culture and history, and excavate to help preserve the history of the first North Americans. At first, I was strongly in favor of science, and the search for knowledge about the past. However, case by case, the issue that keeps recurring is the conflict between the cold objectivity of science and the emotional values of culture. Throughout the history of American archaeology, the battle for ownership of the past has been fought on many levels, from headline stories like Kennewick Man to obscure cases such as United States v. Diaz . In each case, the proper respect which should be paid to the Native American past is often ignored. One of the key issues surrounding the debate between the rights of Native American groups and archaeologists is the extent to which scientists should adhere to a given moral code. This topic dates back to the beginning of modern archaeology, to Franz Boas and Sylvanus Morley in the early twentieth century. In 1919, Boas, widely
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considered the father of American anthropology, accused several fellow anthropologists, including Morley, of betraying their scientific integrity by making intelligence reports to the American government regarding areas in South America where they were carrying out research (Harris and Sadler 2003). This case is just one example of the attitude of anthropology and archaeology in their nascent years, in which “anthropology did not have a written set of guidelines either delineating or suggesting its own set of moral principles or values prior to 1948, when the Society for Applied Anthropology (SfAA) formulated the first statement on ethics for a professional anthropological association” (Watkins 2000: 23). While abiding by a code of ethics may hinder a scientist’s search for knowledge, it is important to respect the subjects of one’s research. Haas brings up an interesting comparison using a scenario regarding the Western attitude toward nudity: Imagine, if you can, a practice among certain major, private universities to systematically photograph entering freshmen in the nude for most of the 20 th century. The ostensible purpose of such photography would be to allow for the placement of these freshman in appropriate physical education classes. What a
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This note was uploaded on 04/16/2008 for the course ANTHR 125 taught by Professor Costura,daniel during the Fall '07 term at Cornell University (Engineering School).

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fws final 11-30-07 - November 30, 2007 Anthro 125 History...

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