University of Leicester
2013WilliamsJFPhD.pdf (1.65 MB)

Archaeological Ethics in Armed Conflicts

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posted on 2013-09-13, 10:29 authored by Jack F. Williams
Like its ancestral disciplines, archaeology is no stranger to human conflict. Greek and Roman warfare often resulted in the sacking of cities, with all property (public, private, temple) taken as booty and the population and heritage exterminated or absorbed (men killed, women and children sold into slavery). In addition to the personal danger risked in a hostile region, archaeologists may also be thrust into deep and divisive cultural embattlements. Cultural property may be destroyed, intentionally or unintentionally. Graves, including potential evidence of genocide or mass murder, may be disturbed. Archaeologists may find themselves embroiled in many of these disputes and violent events, leading to difficult and complex ethical issues. This viperous nest of ethical concerns is amplified where an archaeologist is present as part of, or perceived to be related to, an invading or occupying military force. The goal of this thesis is to develop an engaging and pragmatic virtue-based professional ethic that may guide an archaeologist and archaeology through the ethical bramble bush raised by modern human conflict. The present ethical systems, based primarily on utilitarian or deontological principles manifested in ethical codes, are deficient because they fail to establish the archaeologist as a trustee (active or passive) in a political dynamic, elevate the archaeological record even when these professional codes purport to discount its importance, fail to address adequately the matrix of relationships in a manner that ensures trust across the interests of all stakeholders – both present and past, and dramatically fail to identify and develop the central thrust of a professional ethic (as opposed to personal moral judgment) in the first instance.



Pluciennik, Mark; O’Sullivan, Deirdre

Date of award


Awarding institution

University of Leicester

Qualification level

  • Doctoral

Qualification name

  • PhD



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