The top official in charge of protecting and making accessible the archaeological record in Sweden is titled Riksantikvarie, “Antiquarian of the Realm”. In English, this title is usually translated as “Custodian of Ancient Monuments”. How should a person act in practice as custodian of ancient monuments?
Everybody understands that you need to keep people from damaging sites & monuments through digging, ploughing, dynamiting, covering, and graffiti. But you can’t just declare a site out-of-bounds and leave it to its own devices: pretty soon it will become so overgrown that it is unrecognisable and thus neither accessible nor likely to be understood as valuable. In recent decades, the preferred method in Sweden has been to cut down bushes and saplings, leave some sparse tree cover and make an agreement with a local farmer for grazing. If no livestock is available, you have to mow the site regularly.
This method was developed in the early 20th century. Prior to that, Swedish archaeologists (who tended to have an urban bourgeois background) didn’t quite understand how vegetation and the cultural landscape interact. For instance, in 1874 the Royal Academy of Letters awarded its silver token to Carl Johan Peterson of KÃ¥rby in ÃstergÃ¶tland, because he had planted spruce all over a mound cemetery. This gets horrified winces when you tell it to colleagues of today. But there’s a wrinkle to this famous story. Peterson planted the spruce to protect the mounds, not to make them look nice. Maybe they were threatened by ploughing, which would have been even more damaging.
My buddy Robert Danielsson (who wrote the book on heritage site management and gave me information about Peterson’s silver token) notes:
“Spruce actually does less damage than for instance birch since the root system keeps to the topsoil and is comprised of fairly few, thick and shallow roots. The trouble with spruce is its tendency to fall over. The idea that birch might be good for sites is a misapprehension as a great number of roots reach to every depth and perforate everything around them. The best tree is the oak that does fairly little damage with its vertical root. From an historical perspective, spruce is also unsuitable since it is a relatively recent arrival in our flora.”