The Crisis in American Archeology

See allHide authors and affiliations

Science  21 Jan 1972:
Vol. 175, Issue 4019, pp. 267-272
DOI: 10.1126/science.175.4019.267


The current crisis in American archeology has been brought about by a combination of the greatly increased rate of destruction of unique, irreplaceable archeological information and material, and the lack of adequate funding for salvage of what is being destroyed. Since World War II, land alteration has increased almost geometrically. Land leveling, urban development, inexperienced or ignorant diggers, commercial dealers in Indian relics—these and many other agents of destruction are obliterating traces of the past. Anything that disturbs the ground where people once lived destroys forever whatever information is left about them and their way of life. Interpretations of man's cultural development through time, of his ability to cope with and use the environment wisely, and of a long, fascinating, and irreplaceable heritage are only possible if the evidence left in the ground is undisturbed and is properly recorded when it is excavated.

The problem of the destruction of archeological sites and information is a complex one, with no single solution. A combination of increased support for archeological research through increased funding, and development of a knowledgeable, interested public will go a long way toward assuring this country that a significant portion of the past will be available for the benefit of future generations. If solutions are not sought and found now, it will be too late—we will have committed ourselves, irretrievably and irreversibly, to the future, without benefit or knowledge of the mistakes and the lessons of the past.