The Potential and Pitfalls of Collector Collaboration in Southeast Arizona




Wisenhunt, Mary E.

Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title


Cambridge University Press


In locales where much of the archaeological record has been destroyed or heavily impacted by pothunting and development, engaging with collector informants—including those who legally excavated sites on private property in the 1980s—can help fill crucial information gaps. However, such collaboration can pose ethical, and potentially legal, challenges. In this article, I outline research goals and results from a survey project in southeast Arizona’s York-Duncan Valley, discuss the legal and ethical implications involved in working with former pothunters, and offer a critical evaluation of project practice. Finally, I offer a set of recommendations for those considering similar collaborations. I argue that the rejection of individuals who are knowledgeable about damaged or destroyed archaeological sites effectively silences the sites forever. Data acquired from former pothunters led to the identification and recording of 25 of 87 archaeological sites in the York-Duncan Valley. These individuals also served as interlocutors with others in the local community, helping us foster the trusted relationships necessary to promote site preservation on private property. A long-term engagement strategy that incorporates an assessment determining whether collector informants are responsible or responsive and that nurtures community involvement in preserving local archaeology offers a more productive course of action.


This research would not have been possible without the help of community members, particularly local informants, from Duncan, Arizona. I am enormously grateful for their generous support and friendship. My advisor Robert J. Hard and John R. Roney of Colinas Cultural Resource Consulting provided much-needed guidance and assistance. Fellow graduate students and undergraduate students who participated in field schools offered untiring help through several field seasons. I am also grateful to Bonnie Pitblado and others involved in the editorial and review process of this article for their insights and recommendations. Funding for this project was provided through the University of Texas at San Antonio’s Graduate School Distinguished Research Fellowship and the Department of Anthropology. Work on Bureau of Land Management property for the duration of the project was accomplished under Permit No. AZ-000591. Access to Arizona state lands in 2015 was authorized under ASM permit 2015-001bl and Temporary Right of Entry (granted May 11, 2015), and under ASM permit 2018-087bl and Temporary Right of Entry 2018-3198 in 2018. All survey was accomplished in compliance with permit terms.


collaborative archaeology, ethical values, responsible stewardship, artifact collection, professional archaeology