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Making Choices

EAC Working Group on Making Choices

The annual symposium of the European Archaeological Council (EAC), took place in Amersfoort in March 2014. The theme was Setting the Agenda: Giving new meaning to the European archaeological heritage. One of the three themes considered was ‘dare to choose’ – decision-making in archaeological heritage management. This priority responded to the recognition that, in terms of archaeological sites, “there is a growing acceptance that not everything necessarily has the same value and significance (even in strictly academic terms); that not everything can (or should) be protected or conserved (there’s simply too much); and that not everything can (or should) be recorded/excavated (there are insufficient resources).” (A. Olivier in EAC Occasional Paper 9, p.13)

This is a hugely important observation, since there may be circumstances (such as in the operation of a state’s spatial planning policy) where decisions may be challenged for a variety of ‘non-heritage’ related reasons, or where the consequences and impacts of those decisions may be unpopular in a social context, or even financially unsustainable. For obvious reasons, it is then vital that the decision-making process, and the evidence on which those decisions are based, are clear, transparent, and open to public scrutiny.


The outcome of the symposium was published in the Amersfoort Agenda in 2015, and challenged archaeologists to consider how we might best begin to tackle a transformation in the way we approach our archaeological heritage management and, at the same time, the increasing external pressures on resources we have to undertake that management. The proposed transformation was framed within three key objectives:


  • Be conscious, explicit and above all transparent about the choices being made and the consequences of selection in the archaeological heritage management process

  • Develop a sound infrastructure to support the making of informed choices: identify research frameworks and criteria, and enable access to current archaeological knowledge and data

  • Adopt a broader perspective when making choices: open up boundaries within the discipline and involve other stakeholders (and their interests) in the process

Following the publication of the Amersfoort Agenda, the Board of the EAC worked to develop an action plan through which it would be possible to translate these objectives into reality. The mechanism was the setting up of an EAC Working Group on ‘Making Choices’. The working group’s first objective was to understand better the context in which archaeological choices are made and, crucially, the current level of application of any clear criteria for making such choices.


The importance of choice in the management of development-led archaeology was considered to be a vital component of this, attracting as it does both public and private funding in the majority and bringing significant concerns from a wide variety of stakeholders regarding such matters as funding, timing and the design of the investigation. To gather suitable evidence, a survey of member states was undertaken.

It should be noted that the relationship between the individual legal frameworks governing the protection and investigation of archaeological heritage in each state and the professional judgements reached by those charged with managing and undertaking investigation and research is very important. In some states any archaeological site which is older than a particular date is automatically given legal protection. In others, there are criteria enshrined in law about what kinds of remains are ‘monuments’ which can be given legal protection. Whatever the legal structure, choices and the criteria informing them, are a key part of archaeological heritage management.



Chair: Barney Sloane (England)

Bernhard Hebert (Austria)

Ann Degraeve (Belgium)

Jan Mařík (Czech Republic)

Adrian Olivier (England)

Roger Thomas (England)

Eszter Kreiter (Hungary)

Katalin Wollák (Hungary)

Seán Kirwan (Ireland)

John O’Keeffe (Northern Ireland)

Eva Skyllberg (Sweden)



  • In 2017, the Working Group organised a session on Making Choices during the 23rd Annual Meeting of the European Association of Archaeologists. Participants discussed the first results of the WG's survey on decision-making in archaeological heritage management.

  • The Working Group conducted a survey (Dec. 2016 - Feb. 2017) on the way in which decision makers for archaeological heritage management make their decisions. The structure of the survey focused on four key areas, namely: characterisation, inventorisation and protection; investigation and proportionality, research and skills; legacy, dissemination and archives; and funding and public involvement. It further asked for views from each state as to how the EAC might be able to help in developing guidance or support tools.

    Report on the outcomes of the survey:

    ‘Making Choices: Valletta, Development, Archaeology and Society’


Barney Sloane (Chair), Head of Strategic Planning and Management, Research Group, Historic England




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