Archaeological Heritage Management—Part Two: The Archaeological Competence of the CAB

12 December, 2011

This week on the reading rest I have a short text, a comment by a civil servant at a County Administrative Board, a CAB. His comment is a note meant as feed-back to the authors of the first draft of the report ‘Riksväg 56’ (See On the Reading Rest, 17 October, 2011).

God in action expecting the elements to behave

 Now and again in days past, when power was invested in someone, there was a need to express or write down substantial rather than modal opinion. Thus, when God said: ‘let there be light’ he feared no disobedience on the part of the elements. They obeyed. Later on in end of late 6th century CE one of God’s representatives, Pope Gregory the Great, who was a man of many parts, holdings and estates, had some problems with one of his vice deacons, a man called Peter, who looked after some of Gregory’s lands in Sicily. Peter was responsible for collecting taxes and dues among the tenants. The latter were obliged to pay in pure gold by weight. They used gold coins, solidi, when putting together their payments, because they had to, and because the stamp on a coin guaranteed that the gold was pure. I reality the coin weight, which ought to have been exactly 1/72nd of a pound was a trifle lightwight and Peter would thus need to exert a little more than 72 solidi to obtain a pound of gold. Peter, as it happened, asked the tenants for no less than 73.5 solidi to make up a pound.

Gregory in a 17th c version writing a letter

Gregory, therefore, sat down and wrote to Peter pointing out that he mustn’t act in this way because the pound in question was not the heavy one, but the lighter one, i.e. the one from which 72 solidi are meant to be coined. In his polite and acute expressions almost bordering on irony Gregory conveys the obvious: if one takes out 73.5 solidi per pound then one would certainly swindle the tenants because in addition to one’s salary from Gregory, one could expect to put c. one solidus in one’s own pocket for each pound passed on into the system.Gregory urged Peter to stop and he concluded his letter thus: ‘Now you know what I want! See to it that you do it!’ Disobedience was not an option and arguing that 1/72nd is just a trifle 1.38 percent on everybody’s taxes would not have helped Peter.

When the first version of the report on the pre-investigations for the new road 56, Stenålder längs nya riksvägen 56, (see On the Reading Rest, A Mesolithic Road Show: The System Killers, 17 October, 2011), was send in to the CAB one of its archaeologists sat down and read the manuscript carefully. The draft became dotted with notes in the margins and the main points were collected in a summary strongly suggesting a number of changes. The comments were intended for the authors [1]. In Swedish the comments look like this:

I have translated two sections because they concern the notorious Fig 4 that shows us the exponential growth of knowledge (see A Mesolithic Road Show):

‘Besides the below series of comments marked with bullets there are two things in the report which, as I see it, must be changed and/or clarified.

Firstly … …’

‘Secondly, I must express my doubts concerning the theory presented in Fig. 4. It is argued that ’a useful understanding’ of a site will be reached first when c. 100% of its space has been investigated. Does that mean that a pre-investigation of 1 or 50 percent amounts to almost the same? (something that is implied in Fig.4). In my opinion a useful understanding will commence instantly. ’What happened on the site’ must not be understood as equal to the testimony of the remaining material traces. What we can know about the events on a site is the result of interpretation, which is probably a hermeneutic process in which a growing amount of investigation/empirically retrieved data will make interpretation progress. This process of interpretation is also dependant on what we know from other sites. It is rather unclear where, in the range between less or more knowledge/understanding, we ought to situated investigation results comprising 1 percent of a site.  One must understand that the investigation of the other 99 percent will hardly raise the understanding by 99 percent, although a larger pre-investigation area would of course have caught more datable material, more constructions etc. A 100 percent investigation, moreover, is not equal to ’a complete comprehensible understanding of what happened on a site’, since on a site those events that did not leave any material traces are nevertheless part of an interpretation of the site. That means that an investigate space of 1 percent may be very useful. (Well, this was a lot of words, but as pointed out: In my opinion Fig. 4 is problematic.’

It is difficult not to agree, and not to see that this civil servant goes out of his way to give the authors qualified feed-back. However, believing knowledge, consistency and clarity to be the point, he doesn’t end his comments in the vein of Gregory the Great. Perhaps he should have done just that, since, as pointed out in A Mesolithic Road Show, Fig 4 in the definite version of the report, is central to the lenghtly discussion from which it ought to have been excluded. The authors did as they pleased – nothing!

This situation is all the more troublesome, when we consider that the civil servant has a PhD in Archaeology. That kind of competence is not common among CAB officers and in thhis case we may suspect that his training is one of the reasons why his comments stand out as sound and to the point. How come then that his advice is neglected? The answer is simple enough: there is a tendency among field archaeologists and report authors not to consider the CABs competent, not even when CAB officers are indeed competent and intellectually superior to the odd field archaeologist or report author.

In the present case it would seem that the civil servant was a most dutiful and considered Peter, however, with no Gregory to back him up.


Ultimately, there are two reasons for cases such as riksväg 56, and indeed generally speaking the present situation, in which the CABs are under-staffed to the disadvantage of their heritage management.

Firstly, the staffs are expected to be experts on all periods of prehistory in each County. Since there is an awful lot of expert knowledge to master, there is no way four or fewer persons can succeed.
Secondly, the staffs are overburdened with routine cases (surveys and pre-investigations) and thus given little, except their spare time, to keep up-to-date with the field of their interest. Consequently, in a knowledge-base trade constantly developing the archaeological source material, they lose competence and eventually the CAB’s are no longer respected. They become ‘desktop archaeologists’ in the belittling jargon of the field archaeologist.

This, nevertheless, needs not be the case and two or three decisions will remedy today’s truly appalling situation.

 The New Organizing of CAB investigations

(1) Prehistory didn’t happen in counties nor can it be properly understood in relation to moderns administrative units. CABs therefore ought to pool their resources when it comes to evaluating the archaeology of their administrative duties. Dividing the country into five archaeological regions, as sketched in the adjacent map, would seem reasonable. Since decisions in any given county must be based on more than an archaeological evaluation, decisions rest with the CAB in question.

Archaeological regions

(2) Creating regional offices for handling archaeological investigations related to heritage management and the supervision of final-excavations will give rise to a respected group of antiquaries with a high level of continuously growing competence when it comes to archaeology and heritage management.

(3) Since contract archaeology needs a greater research input, not least in order to make it less rigid and thus cheaper, it would be prolific if these five investigation offices were situated in towns combining archaeological university departments and CABs such as Umeå, Uppsala, Gothenburg, Kalmar and, the exception to prove the rule, Lund.

With a reformed Conservation Act (as sketched in  Archaeological Heritage Management Part One) and a new administrative structure to go with it, the archaeological market will work as well as markets can. Since all markets and their actors are driven by profit, they (rather than the tax payers, who, having been approached by the market, seek to minimize the profits of the entrepreneur) must pay also for the control of their performance.

The present half-measures are pathetic and they ought to be reformed. The reason for this is simple: if, partly for your own benefit, you want to exploit and/or develop society as indeed constructers and developers are aiming at, then your shall have to pay for it. If it doesn’t pay it’s not worth while.


[1] The Principle of public access to official records, makes it possible for everyone to visit the County Administrative Board and check the case as I did 10 November 2011 in the afternoon.


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