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  • Cited by 19
  • Print publication year: 2006
  • Online publication date: June 2012

7 - Trust and archaeological practice: towards a framework of Virtue Ethics


In the autumn of 1922, an English archaeologist sat in the damp darkness of an underground tunnel studying by candlelight the seal of the royal necropolis etched into a heavy stone doorway. After years of searching the deserts of Egypt in vain, he hoped, at last, that this was the object of his desire. Feverish with anticipation, the young archaeologist broke through the ancient stone and peered into the gaping space. ‘At first I could see nothing, the hot air escaping from the chamber causing the candle to flicker’, he would later write, ‘but presently, as my eyes grew accustomed to the light, details of the room emerged slowly from the mist, strange animals, statues, and gold – everywhere the glint of gold.’ When the archaeologist's companions, burning with curiosity, asked him if he could see anything, he replied in a whisper, ‘Yes, wonderful things.’

Howard Carter's discovery of Tutankhamun's tomb is fixed in the public imagination largely because of the spectacular material wealth found with the pharaoh's earthly remains (Carter 1923; Hoving 1978). Surely ‘King Tut’ would not be widely remembered today if Carter had only found a humble grave with a few undecorated ceramic sherds. Although most archaeologists oppose the popular stereotype of object hunter, they have built a professional identity that revolves around the possession and study of things. The museums around the world brimming with artefacts undeniably prove this point (Barringer and Flynn 1998).

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