Archaeological Heritage Management—Part One: The Reformed Heritage Conservation Act

14 November, 2011

This week on the reading rest I have a governmental report in the Departmental Series (Ds):

Ökad konkurrens på det uppdragsarkeologiska området – vissa ändringar i kulturminneslagen. Ds 2011:6 62 pp. Regeringskansliet, Kulturdepartementet. Stockholm. (Increased Competition in the Field of Contract Archaeology—Some Changes in the Heritage Conservation Act)

Publications in the Ds aren’t exactly blockbusters. That too goes for the report presently on the rest, Ds 2011:6, which can nevertheless be studies, albeit in Swedish only, at:

The Heritage Conservation Act can be studied, in English, at:

In connection with Operation Desert Storm, American archaeologists drew up a list of sites that must not be targeted because of their cultural, historical value — their value for civilization as it were. This was a decent thing to do and the list became a means to protect these monuments from collateral damage during the operation. Although the exact number of listed sites is unknown it was hardly more than a thousand and that, consequently, makes the compilation a slightly naïve endeavour.

If namely the aim of the list was to protect the ancient monuments and remains in Iraq, then it ought to have contained c. one hundred thousand known sites or more, since in reality there are many more. Because the list was so short, it was in effect a list of something else, i.e. a shortlist of unique and completely indispensable sites when it comes to cultural heritage.  When collateral damage was nevertheless registered, it came as no surprise that the damage-winning monuments were highlights such as the Ziggurat in Ur. What else could they be?

This meant that the real problem with the list was the grading of monuments that followed from its very compilation: if a site is on the list, then it must be protected. If it is not on the list, we can do as we please. In effect, therefore, the list became a carte blanche for anyone who wanted to forget about all the everyday monuments that describe the long-term history of any country. The list therefore was the very first triumph of the victorious colonialism behind Operation Desert Storm, a victory that reduced the ancient monuments of Iraq to exactly the fraction deemed indispensable by the united colours of Pentagon and American Archaeology. Since ‘Mesopotamia’, the land currently occupied by Iraq, is ‘the cradle of civilization’ according to American experience, and since a lot of us consider ourselves civilized, the list was potentially a list of world heritage monuments, i.e. a list of the visible remains of our cradle. Don’t touch my Ziggurat, my Acropolis, my Forum or my Capitol hill.

According to the Department of Defense, Iraq under Saddam Hussein started to neglect the cradle and brought on everything that followed, since:

‘Until August 2, 1990 — the day Iraq invaded Kuwait, thus precipitating the 12-nation response in 1991 known as Operation Desert Storm — Iraq’s cultural property and cultural heritage resources (its museums, monuments, archives, religious sites and archaeological heritage) were among the most well managed in the world.’

Not everybody could agree completely with the Department of Defense:
In 2003 a list of 5000 ‘non-strikes’ list was suggested:
And in the event there was a report on the inevitable damages caused by the operations of the Second Gulf War on places such as Babylon, Uruk … … .

In 2005 The Guardian published a leader (Saturday 15 January 2005 at 16.19 GMT) and a map on ’The damage wrought by the construction of an American military base in the ruins of the ancient city of Babylon ... ‘

In Scandinavia we were not surprised because hundreds of years ago we invented governmental protection of ancient monuments, and the archaeology to go with it. We have already seen lists – arranging monuments in classes according to their heritage value – turned up-side down to become lists of demolition, protecting the most valuable classes only. The legislation behind this invention, i.e. a series of heritage conservation acts, is always built on the same principles: Because they are proof of our history and thus valuable to all of us, ancient monuments and remains, which are nevertheless threatened by different kinds of marauders, must be protected by law, and if necessary the law must be enforced. Because ancient monuments and remains are seen to have a value, and because some are more valuable, i.e. more memorable, than others, and because ancient monument and remains are more or less well-preserved, they must be defined and ranked accordingly.

Despite being protected, ancient monuments and remains may therefore become dispensable because of the greater good of the Nation such as building roads or invading Iraq. And rightly so, since building roads and fighting wars are significant cultural affairs that must ‘take place’, and the place they take and the remains they create and the monuments they erect must be preserved as our heritage – at least to a certain point.

In Scandinavian we have in other words prioritized for centuries and most people within the trade know that prioritizing is a matter of supporting some parts of the past and suppressing others. We understand this to be an expression of a political and ideological power once uniting the nation. Today priotitizing express of our freedom and democracy. And this doesn’t come as a surprise because archaeology, the discipline, has always been a matter of demonstrating power for the benefit of those who argue that the good heritage is theirs, as we do in Iraq or did in Sápmi. Archaeology as an academic discipline and profession was formalized and consequently financed on these grounds. Still, in many cases archaeology as a research topic works against the selfsame principle, trying to make the whole past and all monuments and remains interesting in their own right.


Owing to the usual procedure, Ds 2011:6 was referred to consideration according to a long list of interested parties and easily turned down by an overwhelming majority. Probably the Heritage Conservation Act will not be changed because of Ds 2011:6 [1].

That is a great pity! The act needs to be reformed. There are two reasons for this: (1) the Heritage Conservation Act has drifted away from its legislative foundation and (2) on average the archaeological competence in the County Administrative Boards (CABs) is too low. So, lets us sketch some points in a reformed act and a new administration:

(1) The reformed act aims at protection, but opens up for demolition based on scientific methods of documentation and interpretation described in public scientific reports and summaries. Part of the materiality of the ancient monument is kept and protected in stores houses, documentation and reports in archives at the expense of the community.

(2) Knowledge of ancient monuments and remains stems from ground-penetrating and non-ground-penetrating methods. On a number of national monuments and sites, specified as a national map of plots, ground-penetrating methods are prohibited, because the existence and spatial definition of these monuments and remains have already been demonstrated.

(3) On all other lands non-ground-penetrating survey and scientific needle-stick/test-pit  sampling may be carried out by authorized excavation companies with the permission of the landowner after the CAB has been notified. Within one month of the termination of the survey, and every month during a longer survey, a report must be sent in to the CAB. The purpose of the survey must be to establish the presence of ancient monuments and remains in the surveyed area. The life length of the report is ten years.

(4) Having established the presence of ancient monuments and remains, a limited use of ground penetrating methods may be employed by authorized companies with the permission of the landowner after the CAB has been notified. The purpose is twofold: (4:1) to delimit monuments and remains and (4:2) to give a preliminary description and interpretation of monuments and remains by means of a limited number of test pits. (4:3) Two month after the pre-investigation or every second month in connections with long-term pre-investigations, a report must be sent in to the CAB. Based on these ground-penetrating pre-investigations it must be described how the ancient monuments and remains in question should be completely excavated, documented, described and published in a scientifically correct way as well as summarized in a way accessible to the public. The purpose of the pre-investigation is to define the presence and absence of ancient monuments and remains. The life length of the report is ten years. (4:4) Based on documentation and reports the CAB will establish the presence and absence of ancient monuments and remains in need of protection or demand supplementary information in order to take this step.

(5) Based on these reports from survey and pre-investigation anyone with the necessary permissions and funds to develop an area containing delimited ancient monuments and remains may approach the CAB asking permission to excavate and document these monuments and remains in accordance with the description made in the report from the pre-investigation.

(6) The CAB may refuse, grant and/or negotiate and redefine the proposal demanding more information. If the proposal is granted the CAB must specify its cost for supervising the final excavations as well as the archival material, the reports and the publications. The costs for doing the job must be covered by the developer. The permission to carry out the final excavation according to the approved plan will be granted an authorized archaeological company contracted by the developer. Thus the developer pays the firm for excavations etc and the CAB for its official duties supervising the project.

This torso of a reformed heritage conservation act for the management of ancient monuments and remains, gives back two cardinal roles to the CAB. (1) The responsibility to judge the value of ancients monuments and remains in terms of cultural heritage; (2) the duty to judge the scientific and antiquarian qualities of the proposal for the removal of monuments and remains. The CAB should not be involved in estimating cost except for its own supervision which is part of its official duties.

In Sweden we spend between c. 250 billion SEK per year documenting surveying and excavating ancient monuments and remains that may lose their protection. We do so in order to keep society well-working and developing [2]. Each year the CABs resolve c. 1100 cases. Nine hundred of those concern survey and pre-investigations.

Cases resolved by the CABs. From the left to the right: surveys, pre-investigations, final investigations and 'combined decisions.'

With a reformed act, the CABs will instead resolve 200 cases concerning final excavations and work with supervision which will automatically update and educate its civil servants. The CAB will also have to consider the authorization of archaeological companies engaged in survey and/or pre-investigation and/or final investigation. They must, moreover, establish the map that shows presence and absence of ancient monuments and remains in need of protection. The greatest advantage to the CABs is lifting the economic decisions off their shoulders and allowing them to concentrate on the fundamental questions, i.e. those concerning protection and responsible removal of ancient monuments and remains.

For the developer the benefit will be measured in market-defined prices of the archaeological standard, in time saved and in the advantage of a planning process that will allow the developer more often to steer clear of ancient monuments and remains. Local authorities will be able to survey and pre-investigate development areas years in advance and save money from a closer and more rational cooperation with excavation firms.

There is just one problem left: What can be done when it comes to the under-staffed CABs? But that problem is so great that it shall have to wait at least a fortnight and appear as a blog entry in its own right.


[1] A laconic summary may be found at

[2] Relevant statistics can be found at:


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