“They Are Digging Up Our Ancestors”: Archaeology in an Age of Accountability

Chip Colwell-Chanthaphonh, Ph.D., Curator of Anthropology & NAGPRA Officer, Denver Museum of Nature & Science

IARC Speaker Series, SAR Boardroom

Friday, December 11, 2009, 5:30–6:30 pm

Chip Colwell-ChanthaphonhChip Colwell-ChanthaphonhPhotograph courtesy of Chip Colwell-Chanthaphonh.Chip Colwell-ChanthaphonhPhotograph courtesy of Chip Colwell-Chanthaphonh.

At the end of the 20th century, the heated debates between Native Americans and archaeologists drew world-wide attention. From stories about repatriation to illicit looting, a series of provocative and complex questions began to circulate in the public sphere: What’s so wrong with museums? Why do Native peoples object to archaeology? What purpose does archaeology serve? Can archaeology escape its colonialist roots? Who owns the past anyway? This lecture explores the answers to these questions in the context of Southwestern archaeology’s historical development, and examines how new modes of collaborative practice are reconfiguring archaeological ethics. It is argued that as accountability becomes a central principle in archaeology, as scholars move beyond mere consultation, the field’s political economy will be radically altered, creating new theoretical and methodological possibilities for the discipline in the waiting century ahead.

Dr. Colwell-Chanthaphonh received his PhD from Indiana University and his BA from the University of Arizona. Before coming to the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, he held fellowships with the Center for Desert Archaeology and the American Academy of Arts & Sciences.

Listen to Dr. Colwell-Chanthaphonh’s Presentation on “They Are Digging Up Our Ancestors”
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Works Cited:
SAA Principles of Archaeological Ethics
AAA Code of Ethics
WAC Code of Ethics

Focusing principally on Native American communities in the American Southwest, Dr. Colwell-Chanthaphonh has undertaken a range of studies to examine the role of history—and objects that embody history—in politics, science, landscapes, museums, and heritage sites. He has published more than two dozen articles and book chapters, and has authored and edited five books including History is in the Land: Multivocal Tribal Traditions in Arizona’s San Pedro Valley which received Honorable Mention in the 2007 Victor Turner Prize juried book competition, and Massacre at Camp Grant: Forgetting and Remembering Apache History which received a 2008 Arizona Book Award in the Political/History category.

Dr. Colwell-Chanthaphonh sits on the editorial board of the American Anthropologist, and the Council for Museum Anthropology has named him as Museum Anthropology co-editor for 2009–2012. 

Reading List

Colwell-Chanthaphonh, Chip. Reconciling American Archaeology and Native America. Daedalus 138(2):94-104. Spring 2009.

Watkins, Joe, Lynne Goldstein, Karen D. Vitelli and Leigh Jenkins. “Accountability: Responsibilities of Archaeologists to Other Interest Groups.” Ethics in American Archaeology: Challenges for the 1990's, edited by Mark J. Lynott and Alison Wylie, pp. 33-37. Society for American Archaeology Special Report, Washington, D.C.: 1995.

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