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From the President: Ambassador to the World Volume 54 Number 1, January/February 2001
by Nancy C. Wilkie

The power of tourism

The recent Global Summit on Peace Through Tourism, held in Amman, Jordan, and sponsored in part by ARCHAEOLOGY Magazine, demonstrated that travel and tourism can be powerful forces for the maintenance of global peace. Many of us who have had the opportunity to live, work, and travel abroad have come to realize that we can be true ambassadors to the rest of the world. By respecting the customs and practices of the places we visit, we contribute to greater mutual understanding.

We can demonstrate our respect for the cultures--and the laws--of others by refraining from purchasing antiquities, whether surreptitiously offered us by hawkers at archaeological sites, or through the catalogs and shops of well-established antiquities dealers. We must resist the temptation to take home as a memento of our stay one of the many pieces of pottery, sculpture, or mosaic that often dot the surface of archaeological sites. If everyone who visited went home with a piece of antiquity, many sites would be stripped bare in no time at all.

Archaeologists have additional obligations. We must publish our research on excavated sites. We must make every effort to conserve the sites we excavate so that future generations of travelers and local residents can learn from them. Walls must be consolidated and shelters erected to protect fragile remains such as frescoes and mosaics. If proper conservation techniques cannot be implemented, sites must be reburied for their protection. Finally, we should make every effort to see that sites open to visitors are accessible to those with special needs.

More important, archaeologists must interpret the sites we excavate not only for those in the profession, but also for travelers from a wide diversity of cultures who speak many different languages. Since it is the local inhabitants of the regions in which we work who have the greatest interest in the results of our research, we must make a special effort to share our information with them through publications, museum displays, special lectures, or tours of the sites that we excavate. Local residents well informed about their cultural heritage are more likely to have an interest in preserving and protecting archaeological sites in their vicinity.

As archaeologists we also are obligated to put an end to the misuse of archaeological evidence to create false histories and prop up the claims of one group, usually at the expense of another. For example, under apartheid in South Africa, the idea that black and white settlers entered the region around the same time was used by some whites to justify their claim to the land (see "Africa's Storied Past," May/June 1999, pp. 64-65). It is only by learning the truth about our past that we can live in harmony in the future.

Although travel and tourism need peace in order to flourish, they can also be great forces in bringing about mutual respect, understanding, and, perhaps, lasting peace.

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Nancy C. Wilkie is the president of the Archaeological Institute of America.

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© 2001 by the Archaeological Institute of America
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