Archaeologists around the world have declared a universal consensus, stating that all archaeological records can give us a consistent understanding of the past.
In a shock move, every single archaeologist has co-signed the same agreement.
No longer will there be disputes about how much meat ancient humans ate, whether they migrated across ice, or what the oldest Homo sapiens remains are – the leading researchers in the field, and also every other researcher in the field, have finally come to the same conclusion.
“There’s enough discord and disagreement in the world as it is. We don’t need to add more rigorous academic debate,” says Professor Helen Hoakes, deputy head of archaeology at the University of Eastern Australia.
“Archaeologists are famous for putting forward different and conflicting theories about what their evidence suggests,” explains Dennis Ovan, director of the Johannesburg Old Knowledge Institute for Excellence in Skulls (JOKIES).
“But when we finally sat down and talked, we realised that almost all of these arguments stemmed from petty disputes on field trips.
“Limited and competitive funding, massive ideological differences, the publish-or-perish world of academia – all of that can be smoothed over by apologising for waking up a whole tent one time, even though you said you weren’t a snorer.”
The centrepiece of the agreement is a comprehensive and universal primer on archaeological ethics, detailing the most ethical way to do archaeological research.
“It turns out that the ethics of archaeology was the easiest to solve of all,” says Dr Anna-Indie Jones, an ethicist at the Centre of Innovation for Dusty Stuff we Thought Looked Important.
“Everyone in the world places exactly the same cultural and spiritual significance in the past, and they all have the same codes for dealing with historic artefacts and ancient human remains.”
Jones would not provide any examples of these codes, saying “it’s all in the agreement” while gently edging out the door of the lab.
The agreement was signed at an international online meeting, at a time that was convenient for every time zone.
Hoakes says that the internet, and the isolation brought on by COVID-19, was an important catalyst for this agreement.
“Social media is a wonderful tool for delivering nuance,” she says. “It invites you to consider other views thoughtfully and promotes agreement between wildly differing groups.
“I think it would be great if we all spent more time on social media and less on research. Maybe if they tweaked some of those algorithms to capture our attention more?”
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The archaeologists believe that their agreement is an excellent model for other fields of research – particularly palaeontology, where gaps in the fossil record lead to massive disputes on how to fill them.
“Sure, archaeology is by its very nature a field that’s dependent on patchy evidence,” says Ovan.
“But just because we don’t know something, doesn’t mean we should suggest different theories. Why do we get so hung up on facts? It’s much more important that we all get along and have a happy day.”
Ellen Phiddian is a science journalist at Cosmos. She has a BSc (Honours) in chemistry and science communication, and an MSc in science communication, both from the Australian National University.
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