Contract Archaeology as Solution to a Clash of Interests

I’m reading the recently published 50-year anniversary volume of “UV“, the excavations department within the Swedish National Heritage Board. I worked my first fieldwork season for one of their regional units back in 1992. The book’s an interesting read as UV is the single organisation that has done the most archaeological fieldwork in Sweden. Ever. And it’s the country’s biggest archaeological employer. This arguably means that it is the country’s biggest producer of archaeological research. Yet it has no academic affiliation.

In Stefan Larsson’s paper about the organisation’s current and future role I came across an enlightening perspective (and I translate):

The way in which contract archaeology was created [in the 60s] had to do with the expansion of the public administration. There was a need for various kinds of “social engineer” to find solutions to problems and the goals formulated by politicians. Research and administration became instrumental and was directed towards attaining the chosen goals, regardless of the values these represented or possibly destroyed. […] When weighing various interests against each other, science’s social engineers had the task of delivering “recipes” for solutions to the politicians. The task of contract archaeology, specifically, became to solve the conflict between cultural heritage protection and societal development in the shape of e.g. investments in the infrastructure since both had been set out as political goals. (pp. 140-141)

Contract archaeology exists to solve an internal conflict among the goals set out by politicians. I think that’s really well put. Stefan Larsson is one of Sweden’s foremost writers on stratigraphical theory & methodology and has a home-made Iggy Pop tattoo.

Ersgård, L. 2009. UV 50 år. National Heritage Board. Sweden. ISBN 978-91-7209-544-1.

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One thought on “Contract Archaeology as Solution to a Clash of Interests

  1. The “new digital archaeologist” on page 89 truly reflects the conditions in swedish contract archaeology. CG, despite beeing a very good field archaeologist, found himself unemployed and is now working with something completely different…


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