In a world where archaeological sites face a variety of threats to their survival, how much have the principles of conservation and preservation found their way into the practice of archaeology? To address this and other questions, we spoke with four experts whose work deals with studying, preserving, and managing archaeological sites, as well as with tourism at those sites.
Angel Cabeza is a professor of cultural heritage conservation at the University of Chile and executive secretary of the Chilean Council of National Monuments. An archaeologist and an authority on cultural and natural heritage conservation issues in Chile, he has worked to develop heritage management models in Chile that encourage the participation of local communities in heritage management.
Brian Egloff is an associate professor at the School of Resource, Environmental, and Heritage Sciences at the University of Canberra in Australia, and he currently chairs the International Committee on Archaeological Heritage Management of ICOMOS. An archaeologist, he has coauthored numerous conservation plans for sites throughout Australia.
Tim Williams is an archaeologist and a senior lecturer at the Institute of Archaeology of University College London, specializing in the management of archaeological sites. He has codirected excavations in Beirut, Lebanon, and is currently directing a research, site management, and conservation project at the Silk Road site of Merv in Turkmenistan.
Eugenio Yunis is head of the Sustainable Development group at the World Tourism Organization (WTO) in Madrid, where he works on the application of sustainable development principles to tourism, with a special emphasis on the natural and cultural heritage. His most recent book is Tourism Sustainability and Market Competitiveness (2000).
They spoke with Neville Agnew, a GCI principal project specialist;
Martha Demas, a GCI senior project specialist; and Jeffrey Levin,
editor of Conservation, The GCI Newsletter.
Jeffrey Levin: Traditionally, archaeology has been an academic profession focused on investigating and interpreting the past. Conservation, on the other hand, is focused on protecting and preserving that past. Are these two professions somewhat antithetical, given that archaeology is concerned with research and publication in a way that conservation is not?
Tim Williams: In Britain, at least 90 to 95 percent of the people employed in archaeology are outside academia. In the last decade, most archaeologists have realized that they have a critical role in the conservation of resources so that future generations will be able to partake in the process of discovery, exploration, and analysis. Certainly within Britain, where a preservation-in-situ culture has developed over the last 10 years, most archaeologists are not in competition with the idea of conservation. It's more a matter of how you can mediate that process.
Brian Egloff: In Australia, we've moved away from traditional archaeological excavations because of the difficulty of getting the indigenous community to agree with any physical intervention with their heritage. It comes back to who owns the past. If somebody else owns the past, your intervention may be restricted. So we have very little pure academic, traditional archaeology that is answering an academic question. You are more likely to be answering a conservation question.
Angel Cabeza: In my country and in other Latin American countries in the last 20 years, archaeology as a discipline has also changed much. Twenty years ago, all archaeologists worked in universities or museums and depended on state grants for research. Now maybe about 30 to 40 percent of all archaeologists work for private enterprises conducting environmental impact assessments. Young archaeology professionals are working for big enterprises or for the government or communities. Some of these people who work for business also teach in the universities and do their own research. So this isn't black and white.
Martha Demas: So is there a divide between academic archaeologists and those archaeologists engaged in some form of management or conservation of sites? If most archaeologists are not in academia today, why is there such a strong perception of a difference between the objectives of academic archaeologists and those of conservation professionals? Is the divide more between different types of archaeologists and different types of archaeology?
Neville Agnew: It's clear to me that some divide still exists. I think that there are two categories at least—traditional archaeology and one more driven by an awareness of preservation. Traditional archaeologists are concerned about the discovery of information that they extract from the site. Conservation professionals—and I include here contract archaeologists—are concerned about preserving the materiality that yielded the information. So there is a dividing line.
Eugenio Yunis: But that is a divide you find in almost any discipline. Think of mathematicians. Pure mathematicians used to be only in academia. Today many mathematicians work in computer sciences and in all those applications of mathematics. Perhaps we are witnessing a segment of the archaeologist's profession moving into that stage that is concerned with presentation to the general public—disseminating their results not only to their peers but to a wider audience, which is what should be done if we are trying to recover the past. At the end of the day, scholarly work has to permeate to the general public, raising the cultural level of society.
Jeffrey Levin: Are archaeologists working outside of academia—those doing more applied than research-oriented work—typically integrating conservation practice into their work?
Brian Egloff: We are forming partnerships. Applied anthropologists are realizing that they need that depth of inquiry that pure discovery research provides, and they are forming partnerships with people in academic institutions because they can provide that research depth. We in conservation are dealing with immediate matters and do not always have an opportunity to go into that depth. I have many partnerships with academic archaeologists or anthropologists at the Australian National University or other institutions that have that research depth.
Angel Cabeza: We can also draw a difference between the older generation of archaeologists and the newer one. My professors used to work alone with their students. The younger generation knows that they need a team to work. There's a requirement of the Chilean Law of Monuments that if I give you permission to work in the field, you have to refill your site—or maybe you have to rebuild the site—and when you finish, I have to go there and see if you did it well. So people go into the field with a team, and always in the team there must be a conservator. You have an archaeologist who is the chief of the team, but in your team is a conservator. You have more prestige if you have a team with that kind of expertise.
Tim Williams: Absolutely. Archaeology is a team-based activity. It used to be that the site director was some sort of iconic figure who made all the decisions. It's changed into a project-oriented team, which is why some of these black-and-whites about archaeologists and conservators don't apply. There's a need to assemble teams that bring with them environmental, managerial, anthropological, and conservation skills to achieve a goal. But in some sense, the academic community has been left behind because it still prizes individual research. People are not assessed as teams. They're assessed as individuals. Universities are about producing people who are valued on their individual output. So there is a bit of tension there.
Jeffrey Levin: What more can we do to integrate conservation training, practice, and ethics into graduate education so that conservation will be effectively applied once graduates leave the university and go out into the field?
Tim Williams: I think we've made considerable strides at the Institute of Archaeology where I work, particularly in raising the issues of ethics and values, and ideas about authenticity, the rights of indigenous peoples, and the nature and relationship of conservation. Hopefully, this prepares the students to enter that broader world and operate within the sphere of professional archaeology, expecting to work as teams and expecting to value other opinions.
Neville Agnew: I admire what the Institute of Archaeology is doing. It's an extraordinary model. But I don't think the full integration of archaeology and conservation has happened yet. As conservation professionals going into the field, we see sites that are abandoned, sites that are neglected, sites that are eroding—and, yes, we blame the archaeologists. We say they dug it and they walked away from it.
Tim Williams: I won't say that every practitioner of archaeology is integrating conservation into his or her work, but there's been a big change. There's a lot of development-led, development-threat-driven archaeology that is employing conservation strategies, looking at long-term monitoring, looking at how to avoid the impact of development, looking at how to balance that impact against the values and significance that are placed on the sites. And that's in professional contract archaeology. There is a relatively small number of archaeologists still excavating sites—under no threat whatsoever—for research-driven purposes. And more and more of those archaeologists are developing an integrated conservation approach because they realize they are going to be criticized if they excavate and then walk away, leaving the site an empty shell.
Neville Agnew: To what extent does your perspective reflect only the practice in western Europe and not what we might call the developing world? When you look at the global picture and the vast archaeological resources of other countries, does the same truth apply?
Brian Egloff: Certainly when people work within Australia's legislative framework, they are tightly controlled. To be argumentative, I could say that some of my colleagues choose to work overseas so they will not face those restraints and scrutiny.
Tim Williams: Yes, I've heard that one in Britain—people say that if you don't know how to dig, then dig abroad! But the ethic is changing. A lot more archaeologists are taking conservation on board, and more and more countries are looking to different models. I've been working in Lebanon, where the director general of antiquities has tight control over the process of excavation. They used to allow a lot of research excavation with no conservation whatsoever. Now they've tightened that up considerably. Countries like Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan and Iran are introducing conservation as an integrated part of research. You won't get a license and you won't be able to dig unless those aspects are being explored.
Angel Cabeza: Archaeology has changed so much because of who pays. The university system in many Latin American countries is almost broke, so archaeologists—and the universities—have to look for money outside. The private sector, with the big projects like dams and highways, has engaged in conservation in a way that has been developed closely with archaeologists. But I agree with Neville—in their final reports, archaeologists are looking to answer different questions and, in the end, they just put in their report what is written by the conservator about what was done at the site.
Jeffrey Levin: Shouldn't we distinguish between the involvement of conservation professionals in archaeological work and the integration of conservation into the planning of that work? It's one thing to have a conservator take care of the problems you find, and it's quite another to have a conservation professional—who is an equal member of the team from the beginning—participate equally in planning how work will be conducted.
Tim Williams: We've still got a long way to go on that, but I think that applies to most aspects of building real project teams. A lot of people pay lip service to the idea of a project team, but it's still largely individual-led research; specialists are brought in, but they're not really seen as integral to the design of the program. Environmental archaeologists or object conservators or whatever—they're often seen as an appendage to the project, almost a necessary evil. And conservation is no different. Getting conservation in there as the underlying ethic is the big challenge—and some way off.
Brian Egloff: It depends. In a project I worked on in Laos, we were equal partners because there were 4,000 objects that had to be conserved, and we also had to conserve the structures in which those objects were placed. So there was equal emphasis on conservation of the object and conservation of the place. That was a partnership that was driven out of the nature of what had to be conserved.
Tim Williams: You can get good partnerships like that. The work that we're doing at Merv in Turkmenistan is an example of that. We have conservation specialists from CRATerre in France working with the archaeology park officials and ourselves on site management and on the archaeology. We're equal partners. There's no hierarchy, and we work as a team.
Brian Egloff: Is the training of conservators changing? To be the devil's advocate here—is the specialization of conservators at times impeding their integration, in a holistic sense, with archaeology? Because conservators are extraordinarily particular in their training.
Neville Agnew: You're really thinking of objects conservators more than site conservators or conservation professionals. Conservation professionals come from many disciplines, including archaeology, and they do think holistically—or ought to. The conservation profession itself is not without culpability because it came out of museum objects conservation and met the archaeological profession in the field, so to speak. We're now at a point where perhaps there's an awareness on both sides that an archaeological site or anything exposed to the outdoors requires a holistic approach, because of the multiple threats it faces.
Brian Egloff: As we train people in cultural heritage management and in objects conservation, we often find that they are applying for the same job—now called collections managers. In that part of the workplace, there's a coming together of those professionals. But we don't necessarily see the coming together of specialists in the physical nature of things with the managers of places, the same way that we find with collections.
Neville Agnew: How well has stakeholder involvement—which involves other voices being part of decision making—been accepted by the archaeological community?
Angel Cabeza: Most archaeologists want to do their work as in previous times—go to the site, do what they want, and leave. They don't want to see anybody there, except maybe some students from the local school so that they can feel that they are doing something for the local community. Most archaeologists see stakeholders as a problem that they cannot deal with because it means more restrictions on what they can do. In many countries, new legislation says you cannot go into Indian lands and do what you want. You must consult with the local communities—but most archaeologists are not trained to do this. We have a long way to go to change the minds of most archaeologists because they try to stay away from all stakeholders and local communities.
Eugenio Yunis: If you accept the principle of stakeholder participation, you have to accept it in full. It's a societal problem because today we have embraced the idea that everyone has the right to decide on what is happening around his environment, be it natural or cultural. And among different groups—and even within the same ethnic group—you may have different opinions about what to do. It's a complex issue that doesn't have an easy solution.
Brian Egloff: We certainly now have the obligation to be proactive. We've had contracts of up to a quarter of a million dollars to work with stakeholders as to what heritage they value in a particular piece of real estate. So it's big business. You have to get it right—because if you get it wrong, you're in court.
Tim Williams: At the end of the day, archaeology, cultural heritage—it's always local. We've got to learn to really engage in communication. I've seen so many stakeholder reviews that are so patronizing in their approach or in their orientation toward a Western idea of data gathering which isn't really focused on how to engage in genuine dialogue to articulate values and ideas. They're about saying, "Well, we ought to consult the local people, so we'll send them a questionnaire. If they're able, they'll send in a reply." But that's not good enough.
Eugenio Yunis: Then you have to think of a way for people to be able to take part in this discussion in an informed manner.
Tim Williams: That's one area where archaeology has been particularly bad. We haven't done well at communicating the results of archaeological research. At the same time that we expect other people to engage in a dialogue, we only give them part of the information. We expect them to form values and ideas about significance, but we're not giving them the same information that we work with. And we synthesize the information in such a way that we're presenting only one interpretation. We're not leaving open opportunities for different interpretations, values, and views of a site's significance.
Neville Agnew: You would expect that the conservation of a site and tourism at that site would be natural partners. Yet that has not really transpired. Why?
Eugenio Yunis: Because the conservation activity or the management plan for a site was defined and formulated without considering visitation of the site. That's wrong. When you prepare a management plan, you have to consider that the site will be visited and you have to determine the site's carrying capacity. Sometimes tourist operators discover a site before a site management plan is formulated, and therefore the way is open for tourism companies to do whatever they wish. The solution to these problems is considering from the start how to handle tourism. If a site is within a village or near a city, you have to involve local people because they will support the conservation of the site and must become stakeholders in the use of the site.
Neville Agnew: And beneficiaries.
Eugenio Yunis: And beneficiaries at the same time through different services related to the tourism industry. Now in that process, you have to help them understand the implications of tourism. Tourists may bring economic benefits if the local people are really involved in the industry—but they may also bring negative social and cultural impacts. Local people need to be aware of the possible negative impacts and decide if they want tourists and what number of tourists they want. All this has to be done in advance of the tourists, so that communities don't get tempted by the economic benefits and ignore the other consequences tourism may have. And this is up to them to decide.
Martha Demas: But as the outside experts, your organization, the WTO, has an important role to play. There's clearly a disparity of power between the ministries of tourism, tourism agencies, and tour operators on the one hand and the ministries of culture, site managers, and the local stakeholders on the other. Part of your purpose, as I understand it, is to try to negotiate between these two and to advise governments.
Eugenio Yunis: The role of the WTO is precisely that—to advise governments. We try to establish bridges between the tourism authority and all the other ministries that have some bearing on the tourism sector—the environment, the national parks authority, health, education. Normally the ministry of tourism is last in the hierarchy of ministries. Many countries don't even have a ministry of tourism, or it is under another ministry. Whether this understanding of the complexity of tourism reaches the upper level of governments depends more on the political composition of government than on what we can do. Fortunately—and unfortunately—with tourism you can achieve economic results very quickly, and that's what tempts many national governments as well as local authorities. In many countries it's the local authority that makes decisions about tourism. Local authorities usually have four-year terms, and they want to show quick results. One quick way is tourism. So there are all these political factors.
Neville Agnew: While natural sites regenerate with care, archaeological sites accumulate damage that is irreversible. Is this something that the WTO is aware of with regard to tourism at archaeological sites?
Eugenio Yunis: Definitely—but tourism development does not depend on the WTO. When we talk of the WTO, we have to distinguish between the 140 member governments that make up the WTO and the secretariat. As the secretariat, we do what the members want us to do. We pass along ideas, but in the end we are not responsible for the policies that they implement and the projects that they develop. I would go further. In many cases, not even governments are responsible for how tourism is handled in their countries. The big tour operators make the decisions. Unfortunately, this is very common in most developing countries, where they are first for the foreign exchange and the jobs that tourism provides.
Neville Agnew: WTO does master planning for states, which is a golden opportunity to factor awareness of conservation into the planning. How does the WTO address those kinds of requests for planning for tourism?
Eugenio Yunis: In setting up the consulting team that will prepare master plans, we normally include—and I underline the word normally—the types of experts required, from the physical planner to the sociologist or anthropologist to—if appropriate—the archaeologist, conservation professional, or marketer. In some cases, the budget priorities established by the government do not allow for the experts who can advise on a site's carrying capacity or conservation elements—but normally we do that. These master plans are then submitted to government, reviewed by government, and eventually revised or approved by government. The implementation of plans is beyond our responsibility.
Tim Williams: If we agree that archaeological sites are local, how do we reconcile that with the WTO top-down approach, coming in at a national or province level and creating these master plans? The local communities presumably are not getting consulted until the master plan is already in place.
Eugenio Yunis: We very clearly insist that the local community be consulted.
Tim Williams: For a whole province?
Eugenio Yunis: Depending on the type of country, on the social organization that they have, sometimes you work with the local authorities or through organized NGOs of local communities. But we normally try to get the involvement of local people. We are now in the process of promoting what we call Local Agenda 21—we send experts to formulate a consultation mechanism with the local community and other stakeholders in the community, not only for archaeological sites but for many other sites as well—even for beach tourism.
Angel Cabeza: Tourism is always a risk for archaeological sites, but it can also be a fantastic opportunity. For example, on Easter Island 40 years ago, the local population didn't care about the archaeology. But because tourists started coming from all over the world, they discovered archaeology. They discovered themselves and they developed their own tourism industry and services.
Eugenio Yunis: It's almost fully owned by them.
Angel Cabeza: Yes, and right now they are not only asking us to protect archaeological sites but also asking us for conservation. For example, the biggest project currently on the island, with money provided by Japan through UNESCO, is not for archaeological research but for site conservation. The people on the island don't want more excavations. They want good conservation of the sites. Why? Because they want to keep the sites. They know more people are going to come. For conservation, it's a very good opportunity. But only when you can control tourism.
Brian Egloff: Very seldom do we have what you have just described—a permanent stakeholder group. Permanent stakeholder groups are empowered because they are continuous. This puts constraints on the archaeologist or site conservator or conservation specialist, but it also has the advantage that they know whom to speak to. Community people have formed a common stakeholder group that is used to dealing with government and used to making their voices heard. In Australia, we have aboriginal land councils that we're required to speak to. We know who the stakeholders are.
Tim Williams: It's sometimes very difficult to know whom to talk to—and these sorts of empowered stakeholder groups are a mechanism for opening up dialogue. The problem I have is that we are sometimes lulled into a belief that we've actually been brought into contact with all the potential stakeholders associated with a particular landscape. In fact, as we all know, local issues are complex, and the people who have a voice in a local community aren't necessarily the only people in that community.
Martha Demas: How do you come to the determination as to whose stake is greatest?
Angel Cabeza: It's a social process, and you have to look for legislation to guide you. In many cases when we listen to stakeholders, they're just a few people of the community. You have to try to listen to the silent voices of many people. If you are in the government, you have a responsibility for everybody. You also have an ethical responsibility for future generations. You have responsibility to balance this. Because heritage doesn't belong to one group, it belongs to everybody.
Brian Egloff: You have another concept here—and that is the principle of transparency. We need to make known to the widest possible audience what we are doing and how we are negotiating. A principle one often finds in the natural heritage management context is that before you can deal with a particular situation, you have to have a widely informed public.
Tim Williams: I totally agree with that transparency. By making that debate available to a broader community, you sometimes engage a group of people who didn't think they were going to be interested or be stakeholders within the process. As they find out about the process, they then do feel that they have a stake or that they do have something that they wish to contribute. But if you're only talking to a small number of people and you're keeping that information very confined, they're never going to find out about it. Then you run into that potential problem of people saying in a later stage of the process, "Well, if we'd known what you were doing, we would have had an opinion."
Jeffrey Levin: What's underlying our discussion is the notion that archaeological sites are nonrenewable resources. Whether a site gets used up by tourism or by overexcavation, it's gone forever. How far has the awareness permeated the archaeological profession that once you use up the resource, there's no opportunity for future archaeologists to conduct their own research and to develop insights that currently elude us?
Tim Williams: Most archaeologists view the destruction of the archaeological resource in England as under far greater threat from processes such as agriculture, dewatering, changing land uses, and coastal erosion than from archaeological excavations. They are well aware that a site is a nonrenewable resource, and they want that resource there for future generations. But they can identify much bigger reasons why large tracts of it are not going to survive. Since 1945 agriculture has been the single biggest cause of loss of archaeological sites in England. Overall, some 23,500 sites were lost through a variety of actions between 1945 and 1995. Less than 20 percent of those sites had been wholly or partly excavated prior to destruction.
Jeffrey Levin: So even in that best of all possible worlds, where archaeology and conservation have a greater melding, are the other problems—such as agricultural activity—so overwhelming that in the end it's not going to be enough to prevent the loss of integrity of sites?
Tim Williams: I think that the integration of archaeology and conservation will help us pass down to future generations a great deal of archaeological resources. If you're looking at what we're going to lose from the archaeological resource, I still think that excavation is a red herring.
Angel Cabeza: Where I see a problem is in the universities, what you call academic archaeology. They want to keep their way of doing things. If we want a more rapid integration between archaeologists and conservators in fieldwork, we have to have more impact in the universities and in the education of the new generations of professionals.
Neville Agnew: Let me try to sum up. Although the old way of doing academic archaeology is changing for the better in terms of integrating conservation with archaeology, clearly more progress can be made. How archaeologists approach their work seems to depend on where in the world they are, as well as on the type of archaeology being done. As for stakeholder involvement, the practice is widespread. However, as pointed out, archaeologists aren't trained in community consultation. And mass tourism, if not well managed, presents a powerful threat, but it also offers an opportunity for the integration of archaeology and conservation. Perhaps the area of archaeology and conservation still in most need of integration is in a holistic approach to sites—that is, from planning and implementation to use and long-term preservation.