Tuesday, May 19, 2020

My little argument with NEARA and the goal of site protection

It has been the policy of my writing and publishing to expose sites to the public under the general rule that knowledge will protect sites better than secrecy. Whether or not to publish site locations is a matter that used to be discussed regularly at NEARA meetings I attended - conferences and board of directors' meetings. But the NEARA default was that sites should be kept secret. Anyone wanting to get access to the site locations might be able to, by attending field trips or by visiting the organization's library. But publications by NEARA, like archeological publications often do, tried to avoid discussing site locations. So, although it was discussed over and over, the default policy was to keep site locations a secret. Deferring the discussion meant continuing the default.

My disagreement with NEARA runs deeper and relates to whether it is alright to discuss Native American burial mounds. I observe that many sites have what appear to be burial mounds. Having that in mind helps one get a sense of what is going on with different features of the site. But aside from the potential to get some understanding of a place, burial sites already have very strong legal protection. So determining that a site is likely to be a burial site is the best way to get a site protected.

It cannot be good to pretend these sites are something else, so I cannot agree with NEARA about keeping locations secret and censoring discussion of burials.

Someday it would be interesting to study some of NEARA's most famous failures. The site at Pratt Hill was bulldozed by a landowner angry about all the trespassing by NEARA members. The site at Burnt Hill was monopolized by a NEARA "director" and taken away from the community. The site never received any legitimate "research" and may have gotten damaged over the years. Who knows?


Norman said...

I agree that educating the pubic about Native American burial mounds, whether of stone or earth, is the best way to protect them. Unlike most advanced western countries, the U.S. has a population that has little knowledge about the unusual stone features that are sometimes encountered in the woods, fields and hills. And because of the historical disconnect with our Native American past, we treat these features as something of little importance historically or culturally, and consequently they are often treated as not worthy of preservation. Most burial mounds I have read about contain little in them of economic value, but that has not deterred some from opening them up to see. There will always be people who are ignorant and flout the rules, but education and dealing with the facts is the best way to preserve Native American sites, and not keep them secret.

PTBO said...

Perfectly said!