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How can we get the story out that archaeological research, including CRM [Cultural Resources Management] archaeology, has meaningful results? We, all archaeologists — academic, private, government — really, really need to find a way to express the meaning of discoveries, and not just fall back on lame 'you have to do it, it’s the law' excuses.
He continues in the comment thread:
Maybe the money [private property owners pay for archaeology] should just go to First Nations to support an indigenous archaeology and cultural history program. If archaeologists can't or won't explain themselves then that might well be an improved direction.
What I mean is, archaeologists need to write real human history-as-a-story, in addition to their careful descriptions of stones and bones. There is no real reason why consultants should be discharged of this responsibility. I know "storytelling" makes a funny line item in a proposed budget but let's figure out a way to make it happen nonetheless.
Storytelling alone won't fix all or most of the problems with the system that Tom King and others have identified. That would take a legal overhaul that's not on the horizon. But it should become part of the operating standard that smart archaeologists and agencies utilize more frequently.
The EIS process absolutely needs reform: Expecting agencies to be objective and unbiased about their own work is unrealistic, and consultants should not be rewarded for downplaying or burying their findings because they are poor communicators, in a hurry doing work on the cheap, or because their client agency wants to keep things hidden or fuzzy.
It's absolutely true that many public agencies regard the EIS process as a nuisance, an item to be checked off a list, and that they often seek to minimize public consultation and response because it might get in the way of their plans and timetables (see the Seattle downtown tunnel project).
Good storytelling could mobilize people against a project, or steer it where the agency doesn't want to go. But it can also be a reward, a bonus, even a legacy of projects that go forward responsibly. It daylights the process and highlights the benefits, which merely fulfilling requirements by producing dull, unreadable reports does not. What's the good of government "transparency" if what's on the other side is as clear as mud?
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