, Volume 5, Issue 3, pp 355-366

Native American religion versus archaeological science: A pernicious dichotomy revisited

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Abstract

Adversarial relations between science and religion have recurred throughout Western History. Archaeologists figure prominently in a recent incarnation of this debate as members of a hegemonic scientific elite. Postmodern debates situate disagreements in cosmological differences between innocent, traditional, native peoples and insensitive, career-mad, colonialist scientists. This simplistic dichotomy patronizes both First Peoples and archaeologists, pitting two economically marginal groups in a political struggle that neither can win. Although a few scholars have discussed the tyrannical nature of anthropological models of tradition and culture, little consideration has been given to the fact that archaeology as a scientific discipline is drastically under-funded, with little research support and few jobs. Reconsideration of which political and economic groups actually benefit from the dramatization of a dichotomy between traditional and academic perspectives indicates some interesting patterns. The search for common ground is shown to have ethical implications for both the futures of First Peoples and the future of archaeology.

An earlier version of this paper was presented at a symposium entitled “Ethics in Science: Special Problems in Anthropology and Archaeology” held at the 1998 Annual Meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), Philadelphia, PA, 15 February, 1998.