Should Farmers Fear Archaeology?

Paul Hounam asks more interesting questions about how archaeology is legislated in Sweden.

Almost all farmers I talk to are terrified of archaeology. I was chatting to one at the weekend who found burning pits when building a barn but kept quiet. … To quote the farmers wife. “We don’t want to find anything and them show up with their diggers. Then we have to pay for it”. Another I spoke to last autumn said all the farmers around here (Southern Skåne) have found stone tools, but they’re all too afraid to tell LS and risk huge fees to fund excavations.

This is all misunderstood. The farmers Paul has spoken to have probably never actually come into contact with the current archaeological planning process. This may be because unlike other property owners, farmers are allowed to build stuff around the farm without a building permit. This means that there’s no automatic way for the County Archaeologist to help them get things straight.

Almost all contract archaeology is done because of highway and railroad projects, paid for with tax money by the Swedish Transport Administration. The amount of fieldwork done because of new farm buildings is minuscule. In order not to run into problems with archaeology, the wise farmer will buy an affordable archaeological evaluation of the building plot before renting a bulldozer. With half a day’s work, the archaeologist can tell if it’s a safe place to build or suggest a better alternative on adjoining land.

As for finding stone tools, South Skåne is completely solid with them. Finding more does not in itself occasion any archaeological fieldwork. If an archaeologist becomes curious enough about a site with stone tools to want to dig there, then the landowner pays nothing unless s/he is going to build something there. Landowners are not even under any obligation to allow archaeologists to dig on their land for research purposes. The County Archaeologist issues no excavation permit unless the landowner has already given their permission.

Is it not true that a construction company building a new road must halt work (creating more cost) and pay for the archaeological work carried out?

Firstly, construction companies do not pay for Swedish roads. The Swedish Transport Administration does, that is, us tax payers. As for getting unpleasantly surprised by archaeology and having to halt the project, that’s how it used to work until about 1985 in Sweden. Then evaluations became the norm.

These days, road engineers are instructed by the County Archaeologist to buy an eval map from a contract archaeological firm before they start even planning the road. The map has red spots on it. To the archaeologists, the spots mean “Cool stuff, dig here”. The engineers, however, design the road to slalom around the red spots for two very good reasons. One is that the Swedish Transport Administration is not intended as an archaeological funding body. The other is that the cultural resource legislation makes it a duty of all citizens to preserve our cultural heritage. We shouldn’t bulldoze the best bits if we can avoid it.

So if you want to build a new barn, e-mail the County Archaeologist and ask him to recommend a good archaeology firm that can do a dependable, affordable evaluation of your intended site. It’s not free, but it’s not super expensive either, it’s a tax deductible business expense, and it’s your legal duty as a land developer.

Author: Martin R

Dr. Martin Rundkvist is a Swedish archaeologist, journal editor, skeptic, atheist, lefty liberal, bookworm, boardgamer, geocacher and father of two.

2 thoughts on “Should Farmers Fear Archaeology?”

  1. I suspect that in the long run, archaeology has more to fear from farmers. Not that I don’t like farmers – far from it. But ploughing and clearing stones from the land has led to the degradation of many sites over the years.


  2. When they started building the Shatin to Central Link of the Mass Transit Railway, they ran smack into a Song Dynasty well, right on the rail alignment. It has to be preserved, obviously, so the rail line had to be rerouted, with big implications of cost and time to the project.

    The whole thing could have been avoided – they simply did not do enough advance ground investigation when planning the alignment. But ‘nothing of archaeological interest’ is the default mindset of engineers here. The archaeologists don’t get consulted unless and until they find something. Having them on the planning team would add very little cost to the project, and could be well worth it. It’s actually worse than that – they did no ground investigation along the preferred alignment at all, they did it all ‘offset’ because the surface land along the alignment had been leased out for temporary uses so the government could screw every last cent out of it, and the designers couldn’t get surface access to do investigations, so of course they have kept running into unforeseen ground conditions all the time. Politicians and the government’s bean counters don’t understand geology.

    The politicians have blamed the time and cost overruns on the contractor, which is stupid, but then politicians are stupid. The contractor just builds what he is told to build by the designer. But unfortunately, the contractor has also been caught out for poor workmanship and cutting corners, which has added to further indefinite time delays and additional cost, and that dispute has a very long time to run, yet.

    So a rail line that was originally scheduled to be open and operating by now will not be operating until several years into the future – no one is now prepared to predict exactly when.

    It’s not the fault of the Song Dynasty well diggers, or of the people who say it must be preserved. It’s nothing fancy to look at, mind you, just a plain square masonry lined shaft, but it is what it is.

    Pisses me off – I could be getting to Central in 30 minutes flat by now, but that is now not going to happen for years.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s