hershel makes a good point: on funding and archaeology

a question was recently asked: should archaeologists accept funding from institutions that have political or religious agendas?

hershel shanks recently chimed in with a sound response:

In short, all funders have agendas…And even funders who claim no bias, except pure archaeology, have agendas. If [the banning of funding from religious and political organizations] were to be universally applied, there would be little, if any, funding available for archaeology.

the issue of archaeology and those that fund it has become an open issue of debate. shanks follows:

The real question, then, is whether the funder tries to influence the archaeologist it is funding.

that is, does the money come with strings attached? must one dig a certain way, in a certain place, and only to a certain depth because of conditions upon one’s funding?

but if we’re honest, this just isn’t a matter of funding. many, if not all archaeologists also come with a certain bias, ideology, or conviction, be it religious, nationalistic, a university loyalty, attempting to curry favor with a powerful colleague, or otherwise. archaeologists are just as capable of bias, even discrete bias, as those who fund digs. shanks continues:

The important thing is to recognize that we all have our biases and that we need consciously and constantly to examine them, to make sure, so far as is humanly possible, that they do not affect our work. This is tough to do.

in short, i agree with hershel. (shh, jim, i can hear you from here ;-). but mr. shanks is right: one should not discount funding from religious organizations or political groups simply because of their nature as a religious or political group. not only would the practice of archaeology essentially cease, but to do so would be just as biased towards agnostic or even militantly atheistic organizations. why do many post-modern scholars believe that anything stemming from a religious or political organization must be tainted, while those organizations committed to opposing beliefs in anything (a religion, a philosophy, an ideology, a movement) are pure? do not such purely humanist organizations have their own agendas? do they not have their own goals and mision statements? why can’t one who affiliates oneself with judaism be capable of proper scientific method? why can’t one who affiliates oneself with palestine be capable of effective research? why cannot an american christian or a french muslim be just as capable of credible scientific method as an avowed atheist? proper scientific method is proper scientific method regardless of whence comes one’s funding or whence comes the archaeologist.

conversely, we will always be judged by the company and the funding we keep. we should not complain if our findings regularly match the ideologies of our funding. if conclusions and archaeological interpretations consistently match or support the religious or political convictions of the group or person funding an excavation, that excavation will become suspect, rightly or wrongly, and will come under heavy scrutiny.

regardless of our funding, the science of archaeology must remain sound, transparent, and open to cross examination from professionals within the field. those that do not subject their excavations to proper methodology and proper professional cross-examination, or even worse, those archaeologists (and pseudo-archaeologists) that attempt to bypass the peer-review process and make sensationalistic or overtly political or religious claims without proper supporting data will be subject to persistent and pointed examination and criticism from members of the professional guild (other archaeologists) and media watchdogs (i’m looking at you, bloggers, and not at you, anonymous alias-wielding cowards), who will look less than favorably upon such claims.

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