Text read by Michael Fuller, acting President of the AIA - St. Louis Society at the AIA Council Meeting held on 10 January 2015 during the 116th Joint Annual Meeting held in New Orleans, Louisiana:
The AIA - St. Louis Society has worked tirelessly and at great expense for weeks to negotiate a compromise on this issue with the National AIA. It was the heartfelt desire of the St. Louis Society to see this issue de-escalated and resolved in a manner than causes no further damage or embarrassment to either group. Negotiations between lawyers for the St. Louis Society and the National AIA have gone on up to the very last minute. An outside observer remarked that this is an "ugly family squabble." The squabble has gone on long enough and neither side benefits from continuing this matter.
I and other St. Louis Society board members, all persons deeply committed to archaeology, tried to do what we believed was the right thing.
We have listened to others, including others who have spoken today, at this convention, and in the preceding months. We do not like the emotional and extreme accusations we have sometimes heard, or arguments that are based on false versions of the history and actions here.
False accusations are terrible, unprofessional, damaging, and never justified. We have listened to the whole debate, and I for one acknowledge that just as I tried to act in good faith, I believe that those who have opposed this sale have good faith beliefs and positions. I have tried to consider what I and others can learn from this, and I would like to share with you some of the lessons, and constructive directions, that I have been thinking about after listening to others:
FIRST, while I and many others understood and believed that sale of documented artifacts was proper -- a large number of respected archaeologists believe that such sales should only occur to museums and professional institutions. Frankly, my colleagues in St. Louis Society and I are VERY pleased that the great majority of the artifacts in question ended up at great museums, which is what we hoped for and wanted. By the way, it is possible that the two artifacts purchased by private individuals may eventually be bestowed upon museums in either Europe or America.
I certainly understand those who believe that only sales to museums and similar institutions should be considered proper, and I would be willing to support the study of formal new rules to that effect, if those proposals get a full and fair hearing by all relevant parties.
SECOND, I do not think we as professionals have prescribed procedures for dealing with what I might call “orphan artifacts.” I have heard some people, including my friends, suggest after this controversy erupted that we should have just kept those artifacts in storage forever, because it would have saved us from criticism. But that is clearly not right, and I think the main lesson is that storage, and forgetting about artifacts, is no solution at all. Getting them in the right hands for preservation, display, and study is the objective. But while our Code of Ethics deals explicitly with undocumented artifacts, it contains no mention of how documented artifacts should be handled, and even the principles for museum acquisition deal with them only obliquely, suggesting that museums can buy and sell them. So I think one lesson is that this issue needs more attention. We should formally address the issue, either through amendments to the Code of Ethics, a special policy directly on orphan document artifacts, or some other means, and I would support such efforts.
THIRD, I think AIA could be part of a solution in this regard. We tried hard in St. Louis to convince two local leading cultural institutions to accept the artifacts, keep them, and at least periodically display them. But after years of talks, both institutions refused. What then were our alternatives for placing this small collection with another museum? Should we have then started regionally, with Kansas City and Indianapolis, and worked outward until we found an interested museum? Our volunteer staff would be exhausted with such a search, and consider how long it would have taken to find the interested museums we did find through the auction.
I understand, though, that many of you find the auction process objectionable, because of the real risk of sale of artifacts into private hands. I suggest, therefore, that AIA consider instituting some committee, process, procedure, or channel by which persons or institutions can find proper placement for orphan artifacts. This organization has both the interest - as this debate shows - and the professionals who can help prevent problems like this from arising again. In fact, if we create such a channel or process, we may find that other artifacts will surface out of storage and find proper placement.
I suggest these things - expansion and clarification of codes, direct policies for documented artifacts for the first time, and an AIA process or channel for matching artifacts with interested museums -- because I have been listening to others and I hope others have been listening to me.
I do not think archaeology is overrun with evil people trying to do evil things. We need to be creative people searching for clearer codes and guidelines, and procedures that will improve things in ways that we can all approve.
I am glad that the founders of the St. Louis Society generously supported archaeological research and preservation efforts in Missouri, Guatemala and Egypt. I am still glad that artifacts resulting from those efforts, in storage for 100 years, will now be preserved and displayed at two renowned museums. I feel that the St. Louis society acted in good faith and has been subjected to unfair criticism, particularly that which has been based on claims that are just not true. But I do not want to fight with my fellow archaeologists. I want to work with them, and improve the profession. That is why I suggest that we all focus, with my full support, on developing clearer and more comprehensive codes and guidelines, directly confront the problem of orphan artifacts, and use AIA's good offices to develop procedures that will bring together orphan artifacts and the museums where they belong.
After talking to and listening to many of my colleagues, I certainly wish that things had gone differently at several stages. Some of you want to act in anger against the St. Louis Society, and there is also a lot of anger in the St. Louis Society about unfair and false accusations made against us. But I do not think anger is a proper professional course of conduct. We are here to solve problems and make things better for the science of archaeology. These three points are my effort to take a batch of quinces, make some quince wine, and move forward for the benefit of everyone.
A ripe quince.
Posted 15 January 2015