Shovel picnics, or educational rescue archaeology?

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An American landowner is selling off plots of land with ‘guaranteed archaeology’ to people who want to come and dig them up. Is this really a good thing for public archaeology?

In the United States, property rights mean that landowners can loot or destroy archaeological sites at will. Now, an American landowner with an interest in archaeology is parceling up his land and selling it off to people who would like to excavate it.

These so-called subdivisions are first of their kind in America, and they have a simple premise: the owner of each roughly 35-acre plot on Indian Camp Ranch is guaranteed that his or her property contains quality archaeological sites.

The covenants of the homeowners association allow residents to excavate on their land under the supervision of a professional archaeologist. Most of the sites are between 800 and 1,500 years old, and they include everything from some of Southwest Colorado’s earliest signs of agriculture to impressive stone architecture to evidence of cannibalism.

The question is, is the Indian Camp Ranch model a viable solution to ensure that necessary archaeology is done where there are no other funds to do it? Is it a clever way of doing public archaeology and a powerful place-making tool that involves a committed local community? Or is it archaeological evil incarnate – a 21st-century revival of a dubious and destructive tradition?

This article about the Indian Camp Ranch is a must-read for anyone thinking about the future of archaeology in the face of increased development in the UK’s open spaces, as well as the growth of community archaeology and citizen science in general.

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Lisa Westcott Wilkins

Written by Lisa Westcott Wilkins

Co-founder and Managing Director of DigVentures, Lisa makes sure the boxes are ticked, the diggers run on time, and that everyone has a *really* good time along the way. She is responsible for the Americanisms, ridiculously strong site coffee and early morning DV dance parties.

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