Perspectives on Public Awareness, Participation and Protection in Europe’s Archaeology
We increasingly hear reports of acts of plunder and vandalism affecting Europe’s archaeological heritage resulting in the loss of irreplaceable cultural artefacts and the destruction of archaeological sites and monuments. This raises many questions. Do the increasing numbers of reports on tampering with ancient monuments and archaeological materials reflect more acts of plunder? Or does it reflect a higher incidence of reporting of such acts to competent authorities? Of course it might be that acts of plunder are currently deemed newsworthy in our part of the world? And if this is the case, we must ask why has this become important now, and also, how does this influence our understanding of what is happening?
The issue of damage to archaeological remains is a complex one and the reasons for its occurrence may vary. The problems and the solutions will differ in the different countries of Europe. We may assume that there in no one best practice, but instead there are likely to be different approaches with varying levels of success throughout Europe. Legislation is often a first step, but is far from the only way to solve this. Conventions are a way to create a common platform. But do they work? In this context it may be of interest to look on the role of the Valetta convention. In reality, laws and conventions in themselves do not solve any problems. However, they function as a societal statement which, at best, may protect by inspiring restraint.
A better way, perhaps, may be the dissemination of information and knowledge about our heritage and its importance. However this gives rise to the concern that while this approach may help prevent damage to archaeological material by those who are unaware of its significance it could also mean that information about the location and potential ‘plunder value’ of sites would be more easily available to looters.
How can we meet this challenge, a challenge that is not only one for those engaged in cultural heritage management but for society as a whole? The complexity of this problem and the ethical issues it raises require us to examine our view of the archaeological source material and archaeology as a profession in relation to society at large. We must take into account the opinions, wishes and needs of the members of society. How we do that poses its own problems.
The phenomenon of plunder was the theme of the EAC Symposium in the year 2009 in Strasbourg, with the provocative title: Who Steals Our Past? Europe’s Archaeological Heritage Under Threat. In that symposium, “our past” was “under attack.” In 2012, this problem will be approached from another perspective: the purpose of our symposium is to discuss the kind of measures that need to be taken and what the societal consequences of these may be. The symposium in 2012 should include contributions that enrich our understanding of the situation and describe different ways of meeting the various challenges we face. Ample time will be given for discussion and comments. In short: the way we understand a question is the foundation for how we choose to answer it.
Agneta Lagerlöf and Bernard Randoin
13th annual meeting
March 15-17, 2012,