In my previous post on historical inscriptions at High Rock Canyon, I got sidetracked with the discussion of religious intolerance and neglected to pose a question to my fellow archaeology bloggers (or anyone who wants to weigh in on the matter): should sites like High Rock Canyon be opened to the public?
As someone who is in the business of managing the nation’s cultural resources, this is a constantly debated question. On the one hand, allowing public access and promoting the existence of a cultural site (be it historic or prehistoric) poses the risk of individuals who will vandalize, or worse, loot the site. Many of my colleagues in cultural resources management feel very strongly that public access to archaeological sites should be severely restricted. There are many of us, however, who believe (equally strongly) that the appreciation for history is collectively fostered by education and access. If we are not protecting sites for public benefit then why bother? Certainly there are all shades of opinion in between. No one arguing for public access is suggesting we post site records on the internet (although we have had interesting discussions locally whether certain high profile archaeological sites shouldn’t be on visitor/interpretive maps). The questions for me are 1) what are the costs/benefits of public access?...and 2) to what degree should access be afforded (advertise the site? Provide a location on a map people may or may not pick up? I’ll tell you if you ask?...)?
So, what do my fellow archaeologists around the blogosphere think about public access to sites?