During the last couple of months I have been quite busy… reading, writing, planning, etc. This is why I did not really update the blog. This, and maybe because of the strike in London, the snow, and a fast trip to Athens to start sorting things out for the move. Actually, it has been difficult to find a moment, and also a topic where I could actually write a bit more than nothing. I thought about writing about the strikes (Pensions in the UK and the first feminist strike in Spain), but there is few I can say.
On the latest advances, Chiara and me are finishing a short piece for Archaeology International (UCL’s journal) on the preparations for the project. We have also been discussing the fitness of our case studies’ candidates. There have been some administrative issues to take care of, and my first meeting with Dimitris. But a piece of news in The New York Times yesterday gave me the perfect oportunity to write about the importance of this project.
We are feared… because we stop development. I cannot really recall all the times I have read this story in the news. Basically, every time there is a construction development and we get in the way [1st stop], media complains [2nd stop] about the costs of the delay, either in terms of time, money or some other commodity [3rd stop]. In countries we have a commercial scheme, it is normally about costs. In countries we have statal schemes, it is normally about time. Sometimes, politics get in the way [4th stop], but we rarely are heroes in the full picture [5th stop].
We are facing a serious management problem. Preventive archaeology is not working (or not as it should as I understand it). Most models do not intervene (normally) until construction starts and, then, the conflict with builders or developers happen. It is a matter of timing and commitment, but I really think it is a matter of money too. After all, most of the projects are originally a public intervention. One of the problems of archaeology is that our need to intervene is not obvious (many times you cannot say if it is necessary or not until it is too late), but we have developed many surveying tools that can mitigate this problem. Let’s try to be there before the excavator, always.
It is very interesting how words are used. Especially when the tone and the message can change so drastically from one piece of news to another. I cannot expect from the Wall Street Journal much better, but this trend is global. We tend to think that people (and media) love archaeology, and it is somehow true. However, we only love what it is not bodering us. We will probably campaign to save the Acropolis, Machu Pichu, or the Giza Pyramids, but if somethings comes out in our neighbourhood affecting seriously our daily life, we will campaign against its protection. Do not think so? Wait until it happens to you.
One of my pending projects, that unfortunately will not be possible during these months, has to do with the real economics of archaeology. How much do we really cost. I hear many developers complaining about the money they are losing and sometimes it is true. We might stop ten or seventy workings for a couple of months or a couple of years. Workers they cannot normally fire or transfer somewhere else. Just make the numbers. But in many cases, these complaints are more about the covered ‘tax’ they have to pay in a process where there are many tricks. And we… sometimes we are… well… I will not say it.
But one of the things that public archaeology teaches you is that we are not the center of the universe. Many issues affect our work and one of them is politics. We have read a lot about identity and the use of the past (true issue that we will cover in the project), but politics go much further. I remember fights between the region of Madrid and the local council staged in an archaeological excavation (estructurally, as a means of policy). Some politics want us to work, others do not. At the end we are at the expense of third party players that do not usually share our values.
The overall problem has to do with the image of archaeology. Romantic views of our work are related with icons we desregard, like Indiana Jones. They do not reflect reality and normally offer a distorted view of the profession. However, the real image we portray is not better. In our continious slight of public interaction (where it actually has to happen, not just in a couple of outreach activities with children now is fashion), we gained many enemies. And they are in a more powerful situation. We should reconsider how we deal with things.
Epilogue: The value of #pubarchMED
I have not given you many details about the project. Just very general ideas that little by little will unwrap. Today, I would like to talk about the outcomes of the project. The real-utopian ones. Those that can actually change the way things are done in a possitive way for the profession, archaeological heritage and its many stakeholders. I am not talking about te academic outcomes, all the articles and books and resources we intend to produce. But about the ideas that lay beneath.
If I had to write down the ‘big question’ it would probably be: How can we manage archaeological heritage better in the Mediterranean?
But in order to answer this question I intend to really understand archaeological heritage management and its impact. This leads to many other questions and a thorough work of documentation that will be the core of the project. With all it, I intend to untangle the threads of Mediterranean archaeology, identify flaws in the system and opportunities to improve, if not solve them. All this taking into account the reality of Mediterranean archaeology is diverse and far from the extensive Anglophone literature we usually handle.
Should we be able to solve problems like the one stated in the article? At least, we intend to provide sustainable proposals to deal with it differently. If we do well, they might solve the problem. If not, I believe they will at least be a better way of doing so. That is for me the main value of this project. Not only because we will be able to understand how the system works (after all that was my PhD already), but because we will also be able to proof that public archaeology goes beyond ludic community engagement. We can do more. We can do better. Let’s do it!