Introduction. Dare to Choose — Making Choices in Archaeological Heritage Management

Ann Degraeve

Head of the Department of Archaeological Heritage, Heritage Direction, Brussels Regional Public Service, rue du Progrès 80, 1035 Brussels, Belgium. Email:

Cite this as: Degraeve, A. 2018 Dare to Choose — Making Choices in Archaeological Heritage Management, Internet Archaeology 49.

The archaeological discipline puts serious effort into achieving the greatest possible scientific added-value and supporting the potential values of archaeological heritage for society. However, choices have to be made at different stages and levels of the archaeological heritage management process. Several interests are at play when making these choices: science, society, financial, legal and logistical possibilities, and public support. Choices are based on the weighing up of different factors such as values, interests and practical opportunity.

A call to action for Europe's archaeology was set out in the Amersfoort Agenda during the European Archaeological Council's 15th Heritage Management Symposium in Amersfoort. The subject of 'decision-making' (Theme 2, 'Dare to Choose') was identified as one of the three key themes in meeting the current challenges facing archaeological heritage management in Europe. The key aspects in making choices can be summarised through its three agenda items:

Clear choices should indeed ultimately result in a more consistent and transparent decision-making, a stronger defence of funding for archaeological excavation, a more sustainable approach to archaeological heritage management and a better-informed and engaged public.

The EAC's 18th Heritage Management Symposium, which took place in the New Acropolis Museum in Athens, Greece, 9-11 March 2017, gave EAC members and other archaeological stakeholders a welcome opportunity to explore the variety of approaches in decision-making mechanisms and actions, and consider how they may become embedded in general archaeological policy and practice over the next few years.

The talks were organised in three sessions: the decision-making mechanisms and the problems encountered, the existence or absence of research questions for excavations and the involvement of society. Not all contributions are published here.

1. The Decision-Making Mechanisms

Not everything is excavated, recorded, researched, and archived with the same intensity. The aim of the session on decision-making mechanisms was to explore the various decisions within their context: On what grounds do we choose the archaeological sites to excavate, the preservation, the analysis, the archiving and the publication of the chosen datasets? How can we strike the best balance between financial implications and public support? What are the values of the related stakeholders and other disciplines and how do we take them into consideration? How can we be transparent about the choices being made, what is the minimum infrastructure needed for making the necessary choices and what are the long-term consequences of these choices?

Barney Sloane introduced the general theme of the symposium with the preliminary results of a survey held at the end of 2016 and the beginning of 2017 by the 'Making Choices' Working group of the EAC with the EAC member states. The classification, inventorisation and protection of archaeological sites, the question of what to keep and the role of the various stakeholders in the decision process, the absence of research frameworks and the scientific legacy of investigations, and the complex field of public engagement in development-led archaeology are some of the key issues he addresses in his article.

Duncan B. Brown and David Bibby developed the topic of Making Choices for Archaeological Archives in Europe on behalf of the EAC Working Group on Archaeological Archives. They explored the production of selection strategies during the planning phase of the project, the various guidance documents in existence, and the need for a European overview on issues relating to selection, ownership, storage conventions, rationale, methodology and sustainability in order to produce guidance in supplement to the EAC-ARCHES standard.

Angeliki Simosi described the choices made by the Greek Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities in order to disseminate knowledge on the very rich underwater archaeological sites they have to manage; decisions based on the available knowledge of the sites, the necessity of funding and the creation of underwater archaeological museums.

Lyudmil Vagalinski reported on the various problems Bulgarian archaeology is facing today such as a strong pyramidal state hierarchy and the fragile balance between the interests of archaeologists and those of developers, as well as the need for continuous improvement of the quality of fieldwork.

Thomas Roland outlined the difficulties when developing national strategies for archaeology in Denmark: the introduction of the 'polluter pays' principle with a free initial evaluation made by the museums, the ensuing prioritising processes keeping in mind to establish a fair system not only for the archaeologists but also for the developers, and the creation of a national research strategy.

Franco Nicolis outlined the decision-making processes for the Autonomous Province of Trento, Northern Italy and the influence of the economic crisis on existing mechanisms, and the important role given to private stakeholders in the decision-making processes relating to archaeological heritage management after excavation.

Agnes Stefánsdóttir and Kristín Huld Sigurđardóttir explained via the case study of Austurbakki how the Cultural Heritage Agency of Iceland received a number of claims for what developers consider damages, due to conditions imposed by the Agency in relation to the preservation of cultural heritage. The resulting court decision will test whether the Cultural Heritage Act is clear regarding the authority of the Cultural Heritage Agency to impose requirements and/or restrictions on developers.

Bernhard Hebert (Bundesdenkmalamt, Austria) developed the thrilling question of our role, as archaeologists, in the decision-making process, addressing the question of which (archaeological) monuments should survive and in which form.

Gábor Virágos expressed a critical view on the Hungarian situation and decision-making processes in relation to a globalised world: when, why, by whom and for whom are the decisions made and, in order to reach a balance, whether standards or some form of flexibility are needed.

Ulla Kadakas described the heritage management system in Estonia and the role of the National Heritage Board. She questioned the lack of resources and of interest by the larger public concluding that redefining the role of archaeological heritage for the public should be placed in the centre of the decision-making process.

2. Research Frameworks

The second session concerned the development of research frameworks and criteria. Is question-driven fieldwork vital or not? How do we identify research frameworks in order to make the necessary choices? What questions need to be answered and subsequently what methods/field strategies do they require? How do we develop criteria and standards for assessing the significance of the archaeological sites? Which political/economical/social realities do we take into account in the creation of our selection criteria?

Mariglen Meshini, via Berbis Islami, described the archaeological processes in Albania and how the actual research framework is usually based on ancient sources and field observations as a National Archaeological Map is lacking. Between 1950 and 1990, due to strong nationalist influences, politics had a massive influence in defining criteria for the selection of archaeological sites and research was orientated towards the discovery of archaeological sites dating back to the Bronze and Iron Ages, related to the Illyrian ethno-genesis.

John O'Keeffe considered the informed choices made in development-led archaeological excavations in Northern Ireland: the legal context, the building up of documentation, the unexpected consequences with the discovery of previously unknown sites and the more nuanced approach between historic city centres and rural areas. A flow-chart of consideration guides decision-makers through the thought processes involved in evaluating the sites. He includes some considerations on how perspectives change as a result of development-led archaeology.

During the symposium, Bert Groenewoudt (Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands — RCE) showed the Dutch new national archaeological research agenda (NOaA 2.0) stating the necessity of the creation of tools to facilitate the decision-making processes. Lauwerier et al. frame this research agenda within the well-informed and transparent decision-making processes at the start of the archaeological management cycle. Various projects have been developed within this approach: predictive modelling, archaeological heritage maps, best practice guide to prospecting, the national research agenda and the necessary syntheses.

Matija Črešnar described the creation of the Centre for Preventive Archaeology as a new operational body of the Institute for the Protection of Cultural Heritage of Slovenia and the important paradigm shift this occasioned: the focus shifted from a 'classical' site-oriented archaeology to the whole landscape, initiated by technological and methodological changes, and from chronologically firmly-defined frameworks to an understanding of archaeological remains as a fluid and ever-changing part of our environment.

Peter Schut critically considered the huge pile of archaeological reports (mostly surveys) published in the Netherlands following the implementation of the new Heritage Act in 2007 in relation to the effective covering of the surface with excavations. After having analysed this situation, he proposed some guidelines such as the integration of historical information, and the 'freeing' of sites which are not valuable to professional archaeology or the public for volunteer research.

Agnieszka Oniszczuk developed the necessity of question-driven fieldwork from the perspective of the archaeological heritage manager: question-driven fieldwork is too often considered as the sole form of scientific research with preventive and development-led fieldwork being described as secondary or inferior. Through numerous Polish examples she set out the case for development-led fieldwork as it delivers massive amounts of data, and thus is also crucial for the development of archaeology as a science.

Ann Degraeve and Jef Pinceel delivered some insights into the strategic decision-making at the Archaeological Conservation and Restauration Laboratory of the Brussels Capital Region, Belgium, where an extensive and complete active conservation and restoration of every object found during an archaeological excavation is often neither realistically possible nor necessarily useful. While the principal goal of archaeological conservation is the retrieval of information held by the objects to further our understanding of the past, it is important to try and be efficient with resources while attempting to maximise the information obtained and to preserve the future information potential of artefacts.

3. The involvement of society

This session gave an overview of the choices at work when concerned with public participation and publicity, and the question of how we can make informed choices that allow us to achieve not only the greatest possible scientific value but which also supports the potential value of archaeological heritage to society. The practice of 'embedding archaeology in society' through public participation is still in its infancy, but basic questions already appear: What does the public/society want from archaeologists? Which choices do we make regarding public engagement and public awareness? How can/should the various stakeholders and their interests be involved in the archaeological heritage management process? How can we adopt a broader perspective and explore ways of involving others in making our choices ?

Elena Kountouri et al. highlighted the way in which a management plan could contribute to the creation of a common understanding for the protection and presentation of monuments among stakeholders and to the joint setting of targets among all competent services in Greece for the protection of cultural heritage, both at central and regional level, other competent state or local government bodies as well as civil society organizations with an active role in this context. They specifically focused on the preparation of management plans for the Greek World Heritage monuments.

Mary Teehan et al. analysed various approaches to developing an archaeology strategy in Ireland, Scotland and England, each having varied stakeholder engagement foci. They gave an overview of the various strategies and contexts, the European and national drivers, and discussed the choices made in stakeholder involvement, the outcomes, challenges and effects on implementation plans.

João Marques and Filippa Neto gave some Portuguese examples of the multiple steps taken to achieve public engagement with archaeological heritage. They started with the public's initial awareness of the impact on archaeological heritage during dam construction in the Cõa valley, renowned for its rock art and the ensuing creation of important legal mechanisms and the development of preventive archaeology and monitoring, and then shifted focus to examine the ongoing public interaction with the various levels of archaeological research today.

Eva Skyllberg developed the topic of the difficult task of disseminating archaeological results to the general public, especially as public archaeology is often, to a large extent, carried out during fieldwork with the phase after the excavation remaining largely unexplored. The Swedish answer to this problem was the introduction in the Historic Environment Act of the provision to ensure that the transmission of the results to the general public is included in the excavation project and that it is the developer's responsibility to pay for this.

And last but not least, Sandra Zirne discussed the subject of the relevance of professional ethics for archaeologists in relation to the general public in Latvia. She gave an overview on how public opinion forms during archaeological excavations and explored the various problems encountered, such as the development of a Code of Ethics for Latvian archaeologists.


Throughout the European Archaeological Council's 18th Heritage Management Symposium, a number of issues were presented that were shared by many participants from the various member states. Lively discussions surrounded the numerous solutions that were presented, reflecting the difficulties that national/regional archaeological management bodies encounter in making well-informed choices. This year's theme 'Dare to Choose' has given us a lot to think about, to reconsider, change and/or adapt in our day-to-day activities and responsibilities. I therefore want to thank all participants for this very fruitful experience, bringing us together around what we cherish most profoundly: our archaeological heritage.

I also want to thank the EAC's president, Leonard de Wit, for giving me the opportunity to organise the scientific part of the Symposium — a grand challenge — and the EAC's assistant Djurra Scharff for her never-ending energy whenever a helping hand was needed. Many thanks to Elena Korka and her team, Sofia Spyropoulou, Angeliki Poulou and Thibaut Noyelle, of the General Directorate of Antiquities and Cultural Heritage (Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Sports) who hosted the Annual Meeting at this most wonderful location of the Acropolis Museum in Athens, for organising in such a perfect way the always huge amount of practical tasks that accompany a symposium.

The PowerPoints of the EAC's 18th Symposium can be consulted at A choice of large abstracts of the EAC's 18th Symposium is published in the EAC Occasional Papers 13.


Degraeve, A. and Pinceel, J. 2018 To treat or not to treat…Insights into the Strategic Decision-Making in the Archaeological Conservation and Restoration Laboratory of the Brussels Capital Region, Belgium, Internet Archaeology 49.

Kountouri, E. Benissi, C. and Papageorgiou, J. 2018 Management Plans: A Tool for Participative Decision-making, Internet Archaeology 49.

Lauwerier, R.C.G.M. et al. 2018 A Toolbox for Archaeological Heritage Management. Maps, Methods and More for Effective and Efficient Selection of Valuable Archaeology, Internet Archaeology 49.

Marques, J. and Neto, F. 2018 Steps towards Public Engagement with Archaeological Heritage — Some Portuguese Examples, Internet Archaeology 49.

O'Keeffe, J.D.J. 2018 'Do I really need to dig it?' — Making Choices in Development-Led Archaeological Excavation in Northern Ireland, Internet Archaeology 49.

Oniszczuk, A. 2018 Is Question-driven Fieldwork Vital or not? An Archaeological Heritage Manager's Perspective, Internet Archaeology 49.

Roland, T. 2018 Making Choices — Making Strategies: National Strategies for Archaeology in Denmark, Internet Archaeology 49.

Simosi, A.G. 2018 Managing Greece's Underwater Archaeological Heritage, Internet Archaeology 49.

Sloane, B. 2018 Making Choices: Valletta, Development, Archaeology and Society, Internet Archaeology 49.

Teehan, M., Jones, R.H. and Heyworth, M. 2018 Three for One: Analysis of Three Differing Approaches to Developing an Archaeology Strategy, Internet Archaeology 49.

Virágos, G. 2018 Dare To Lo(o)se, Internet Archaeology 49.

Zirne, S. 2018 The Relevance of Professional Ethics of Archaeologists in Society, Internet Archaeology 49.