A new dawn for exploratory archaeology in Sweden – or will we crash and burn?

Updated 2010-02-25 (A Swedish version is on its way)

The other day the Swedish government sent a proposition Increased competition in the mission (exploratory) archaeological field – some changes to the Cultural Heritage Act (DS 2011:6) out for consultation (Link in Swedish).

The Ministry says that the starting point of the proposals is that they should promote competition and to clarify roles and responsibilities within  field (exploratory) archaeological.

According to the proposal the entrepreneur (ie the developer) – after the County Board has decided that archaeological work needs to be preformed – designate who will perform the work. This means a new order. Today it is the County Board who designates who should perform the archaeological work after opting out, after procurement or direct selection, who will do the job. The County Board also has the responsibility to oversee the plan of work and its costs, and perform oversight of the work and ultimately approve or disapprove of it.

The Ministry believes that the proposal means that the roles and responsibilities between the County administration, entrepreneur (ie the developer) and the archaeological institution or company must be clarified. Entrepreneurs will get clearer control over and responsibility for the process. The proposal will allow the County Board to place greater focus on designing clear decisions about archaeological work, such as the conditions based on the criterion of scientific quality, and strengthen and develop supervisory activities. The Ministry hopes that the proposal will lead to better conditions for fair competition within the exploratory archaeological field.

Personally I am ambivalent about this proposal. On one hand the current field archaeological market doesn’t work all that well today (this most seems to agree on) on the other we know what we have to work with. There are significant differences across the country how the County Boards works and there is a lack of transparency for those applying for archaeological jobs – and I guess also for the entrepreneurs.

In the current system, I think the County Boards have too much power in relation to the institution or company that will perform the archaeological work. They are involved in too many parts of the process – they write the decision, determining the cost, determine priorities, methods and scientific questions and supervise the project. In the end they seldom have the resources to do all this work. When it comes to priorities, methods and scientific questions I believe that this should be the responsibility of the institution or company doing the work to a greater extent than today. One result of this proposal is that it will become more transparent than today – which is needed.

The risk of this proposal lies in further pressure on prices at the expense of science – but if you look at other deregulations they have rarely led to lower prices. It will most probably lead to a situation where it will be more important to be on good terms with the entrepreneurs. This will place new demands on archaeological performers, the County Boards and the National Herritage board – there are several risks concerning this that should be discussed in depth. Due to this the County Boards may get too little transparency in the process of ensuring that decisions are implemented properly – they need to develop tools to ensure the quality of the work. There is also a risk that rogue firms seek to influence the archaeological firms or that rogue archaeological firms arise. Other problems include unexpected findings during an excavation or who to resolve issues between the entrepreneur and the archaeological excavator.

If this proposal goes through there are several issues that needs to be tended to, especially that of the County Boards roll, but also the National Heritage Board will have their hands full. I’m not sure if this proposal will be for the better or the worse – and much can happen before this goes in front of the parliament – but it will change the archaeological landscape of Sweden.

A quick update on my views on the prop. To make it work it is obvious that the decision part need to be strengthen, e.g. the decisions must be done in another way than today with a lot more detailed information on what the County Boards wants from the investigation or excavation. It also demands a way of certifying companies – e.g. the County Board can’t as today just ask for a letter of interest but must also clarify if the company is up to par. This will make it possible for companies that don’t reach the County Boards standards an opportunity to fix the problems or appeal the decision – which in a way will make the process more transparent. There is also a great need to give the County Boards better opportunities and resources to make oversight of the work, to control that it is done accordingly and fulfils the decisions. There is also need for tools for penalties or fines if the contracts are not done correctly or in accordance with the County Board’s decisions. This also requires that the National Heritage Boards get greater, or redistributes, resources for supervision of the County Boards and their operations.

I’ve noted that some makes comparisments with the situation in Holland, Great Brittan and Ireland etc. These are relevant if we see to the procurement process but there are several things that differ which makes these comparisments difficult, for example laws concerning land ownership, cultural heritage and building and planning processes. As I am fairly ignorant of the laws and processes concerning this in other countries I don’t feel that it’s appropriate to make detailed comparisons with them – at least not for me.

I’ll read it in depth during the weekend and come back to you with more thoughts!

Others that blogged about this is Fredrik Svanberg at Museum Nu (Blog in Swedish), the Swedish blogs En humanists väg till arbetslivet and Arkeologigruppen here and here.

Magnus Reuterdahl

About Magnus Reuterdahl

I am an archaeologist/Osteologist from Sweden. My main intrest lays in north Euorpean archaeology in, preferbly the prehistory of the late iron age and the neolithic periods. I've also got a strong intrest for Chinese archaeology, especially the neolithc Yangshao culture. I also write about cultural heritage and cultural history. Mitt namn är Magnus Reuterdahl, jag är arkeolog och osteolog och arbetar företrädesvis i Sverige även om jag gjort ett par vändor till Kina. På den här bloggen skriver jag om mitt yrke, om fornlämningar, kulturarv och kulturhistoria m m. View all posts by Magnus Reuterdahl

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