Archaeologists examine the physical remains of humankind to answer questions animated by our present. The material record helps us understand the production of inequality, the representation of power, and the targeted discrimination of communities. Archaeological research that describes the lives of everyday people also gives voice to those who lack privileged representation in the dominant historical record. Violence perpetrated against African Americans, Native Americans, women, immigrants, and other minorities in our own society have antecedents in the ancient and more recent past. So too does the use of propaganda to legitimize authority, silence dissent, and maintain control. Our tools carry a professional and ethical obligation to call attention to these connections and to share the context of different human experiences.
As archaeologists, we also are all too aware that our field has benefited disproportionally from its affirmation of nationalist, colonialist, and racist ideologies. We know that archaeological research is all too often co-opted by white supremacists, anti-Semites, those who would deny Indigenous rights, and other racists to justify their ideologies and agendas, ignoring the ethnic, religious, and cultural diversity that characterize the past and our contemporary present. Moreover, we have witnessed how historical monuments and other objects can be used to reinforce, rather than to remedy, historical inequalities and injustices. This legacy means that archaeologists cannot be silent on issues of equity, inclusion and social justice, especially not today.
As a professional organization, we are aware of this past. This historic moment reminds us of the necessity to be better and to make our discipline better. We want to make clear that Black lives matter, and that we stand in solidarity with victims of systemic injustice around the world. At the same time, we consider how the field of archaeology can and must change. We know that this work must begin with ourselves at the Archaeological Institute of America, and we want to make three commitments:
A commitment to listen. We want to hear where and how the Archaeological Institute of America needs to do better. Already, we have convened listening groups on increasing diversity and reducing discrimination in our departments, our classrooms and our fieldwork. We are revising our statement of professional ethics to reflect this commitment. These are difficult but necessary conversations. We are learning, and we know that more voices and views are critical.
A commitment to advocacy. We want the Archaeological Institute of America to be an effective public ally on issues where cultural heritage intersects with the desire to create a more just, inclusive and equitable society. Our commitment to advocacy is a pillar of our professional society’s mission. We know we can do more to speak out against injustice, and we are determined to do so.
A commitment to accountability. We want change to be real and systemic in the field of archaeology as a whole and in the Archaeological Institute of America in particular. We know that such a transformation takes work, time, and effort. Please join us, participate, and help our organization open a dialogue to realize the changes that are necessary.
We seek to achieve an archaeology that broadens our vision, deepens our understanding, and expands our humanity. Our commitment to this transformation is one step toward addressing injustices of the past and collaborating in a socially relevant archaeology for the future.