“As editor-elect of the journal Southeastern Archaeology, Rob Beck helped choose a cover photo for the penultimate issue of 2020. It showed about 20 ceramic vessels, some painted with colorful patterns. They had been excavated in the early 1900s from the Crystal River Archaeological State Park in Florida, home to some of the region’s oldest ancient Indigenous earthworks.
But Beck, an archaeologist at the University of Michigan, came to regret his choice. The vessels had been excavated from a funeral mound, and Indigenous members of the Southeastern Archaeological Conference (SEAC) objected, saying the images could severely offend tribal members who viewed them. The journal had already stopped publishing images of human remains for similar reasons. So Beck helped develop a new policy: The journal would publish only line drawings of funerary objects; photographs could only appear in a supplemental online database. And in both cases, researchers would be required to first consult tribes.
But that decision, too, sparked an outcry.
“I felt like I’d been kicked in the gut,” says Vin Steponaitis, an archaeologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, who says it’s crucial for scholars to freely share and study such images. “There’d been no discussion of it with the membership, and I could instantly see that this policy would have a major impact on shutting down research.” He was one of 30 SEAC members who signed a petition calling for a vote to revoke the image policy….”