On archaeology, travel, dreams and politics: TEA’s S. Reiter interviews Geesche Wilts, the powerhouse behind the archaeology and travel blog Miss Jones

Samantha S. Reiter1 with Geesche Wilts2
1Editor The European Archaeologist
2Miss Jones

*Editors note: The interview has been condensed in the following written version with the knowledge and consent of the interviewee. For a full account of TEA’s interview with Geesche Wilts, you are invited to view the video.

TEA: Could you tell me a bit about Miss Jones, your archaeology blog?

G. Wilts: The name is the easiest. I was always an adventure-loving girl, but I was sick of the Indiana Jones stereotype. He was always the ‘cool guy’…but [why] couldn’t it be a ‘cool girl’? When I was watching Indiana Jones as a teenager, I thought ‘I want to be him!’ I really liked the movies, and I wanted the…girls screaming my name. I wanted to show [with the blog] that females can do this, too, but that archaeology is also more.

At the beginning, I took the famous name of Jones, and made it for girls. I wanted all girls to get the feeling that they could be Miss Jones, no matter skin colour or….background. Anyone could be Miss Jones. I wanted to [make a place which encouraged people to] be whatever kind of woman they wanted, where you didn’t have to stick to the rules. I did not get the feeling in my childhood that women should be self-confident. So, [perhaps] it is a little less about getting everyone into archaeology [than it is] about getting people to go after their dreams.

TEA: Who is your readership?

G. Wilts: I am dyslexic. This can be a bit confusing for people. But there are a lot of parents of dyslexic people who want to have a role model for their kids. I…want to write for young girls who don’t know what they want to do with their lives. There are a lot of young people I know. Punk teenagers, and they have a lot of [very] interesting and intelligent questions. I teach myself how to answer, because I talk a lot with teenagers. I write [the blog] for them. Queer, punk rock teenagers.

TEA: How long have you been blogging?

G. Wilts: I started my first blog when I was twelve years old! But I started Miss Jones in 2015.

TEA: Is it hard to come up with new ideas, or is it more difficult to restrain yourself?

G. Wilts: More the second! I have so many ideas that I cannot decide. Some articles take a long time to research. I’ll go through the library hundreds of times and [the post] gets longer and longer and longer. Then I think, ‘maybe I should cut this into two or three [separate] posts’. Others [I have to continue to work on] because they are still not as readable [as I would like]. They are too hard, there is too much information. Then, I have to think about how to change [that].

As far as topics are concerned, I am swimming in them. My strategy is to always post on a new topic which is different from the last [post]. I don’t want to do two weeks Stone Age in a row, not two weeks Germany….I want to be able to jump [around] the planet and [across] time zones [with the posts]. The longest part [of the process] is shortening the article to make it really good…My goal is to make an archaeological [blog] which is as good as a magazine. That you can count on.

[Personally], I want to be Miss Jones. I want to go around the world, explore all four corners ideally on foot. Now, it’s funny when I tell this to other people. Archaeologists are used to crazy people. [Other people] are surprised. I want to have adventures. The blog is about archaeology and travel, so it fits.

In September (2023), I hope to walk from Firenze to Pisa1. I will start my walking trips. I will show my adventures. I will show what I have seen, and what it means and the history behind it. I did a few museum visits and critiques, but people don’t really like to read it. …But I always try new things. When I see that something doesn’t work, I try [something else].

G. Wilts on museums: I know a lot of German museums, and some of them are not good. They aren’t good because they cannot pick people up where they stand. Labelling old pottery as ‘old pottery’ doesn’t help. Some great exhibitions have wonderful ideas, but then people can’t always understand what the text is about, or why certain things are being shown. It’s hard.

TEA: Do you have any ‘forbidden’ topics? Things that you don’t want to talk about?

G. Wilts: Yes and no. I am a really political person, so I sometimes make articles which have big political content… This can be hard. Because then you have—as you already realize—as a queer person [who is] part of punk rock scene, I may be a little left, and then [some readers] may be right wing. It can be scary. It took me a long time and I did a lot of research before writing about certain things.

…These past few months I have come back to myself and to my old wishes. For a long time, I was scared. I was scared to tell people I am bisexual. I was scared. For example, I once posted on the question—a reader question of—"was Caesar gay?”, which I thought was a really good question for Christopher Street Day [an annual European LGBTQ+ celebration].

I got a lot of homophobic messages. Especially from archaeologists. Some of the words [that were used] I don’t even know in English. I don’t even use them in German, because they are so awful. But I tried to survive.

The other topic which is really hard is genetics. I [wrote an article] which didn’t even discuss [genetic] results. It was [about] DNA and how it works. I took it down. Readers’ reactions were more like “You are a woman. You cannot understand something as intelligent as DNA. You aren’t allowed to talk about it”. I had such a high number of such messages that I didn’t write about genetics for a long time. But, soon comes my first genetics article after a year. I have already prepared it. I am not scared anymore.

When I talk about it to my followers, they say they understand, even though they are sad, because they want to hear about it from a woman. Because they trust me more.

TEA: Are there any journals or blogs that are particularly inspiring for you?

G. Wilts: The magazine Archäologie in Deutschland, the Smithsonian blog “Cool Findings”, “Heritage Daily” or Sapiens. Nature and Science are always on my list. But you have to pay attention, to make sure that the message fits the data.

TEA: Do you find that archaeologists are good communicators?

G. Wilts: No. [Sighs] Because it’s horrible! With some exceptions. For example, I have a colleague here in Germany—Angelica Franz—who writes really good books…She is a really good inspiration, because she has been doing this for a long time. I mean, I read her books as a teenager. Only few [archaeologists] really know how to catch people.

For non-archaeologists, what archaeologists talk about is like Chinese. They don’t understand anything. Which is interesting, as I get a lot of mails from archaeologists who tell me that I should change my writing to make it more ‘professional’. That I should put in citations, for example. Or, that I am wrong when I say ‘Halstatt culture—what you might know as ‘Celts’”. They [get upset], saying ‘Celts’ is not the right word. Or, not giving exact tool types and labelling something as an ‘axe’, when [according to the expert on that particular tool type], “everyone on the planet knows that this axe is an [xyz] type axe!!!” I got hate messages from archaeologists who do not understand that I am writing for people from the public. They live in their own bubble, and think that everyone is living in the bubble.

TEA: Is blogging your full-time job?

G. Wilts: No. Well. Yes and no. Making it as good as possible is a full-time job. But as I do not make enough money with it to live [off of] it, I have another job, which finances my [blogging]. The one job is jobbing to make money, and the other job is working where I do archaeology. And none of those other jobs are archaeology-related, unfortunately. I got the Deutscher Studienpreis [German Student Prize] for the best Master’s Thesis, and [still] people don’t give me a job.

TEA: Are you sponsored?

G. Wilts: No, I have no sponsors. I have regular readers who send me tips. This I have. I have tried to get sponsors. There are UNESCO programmes, or companies involved in hiking, like Jack Wolfskin. Unfortunately, the usual response to my sponsorship requests is that they ignore me.

On the other hand, I do get invited to attend events and conferences. I was at DGUF, working together with them. DGUF is the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Ur und Fruhgeschichte [the German Association of Pre and Early History]. I was sometimes invited to museums, but I stopped doing it. They make a ‘social media day’ in which they invite other social media people, but the others [who attend] do not have an archaeological background. They might be a city blogger [on Hamburg] and stand there talking about how it’s so great and amazing…and I think to myself. ‘No! It’s wrong. I know it’s wrong.’ But if you are surrounded by these people and with the head of the museum in front of you, you have to post on Twitter. You have to post on Twitter to get invited again…but you cannot post ‘this is rubbish.’ There is pressure about saying that things are good, even when they are not.

What worked out better was being invited by museums to write about them. I first talked with them [and said] that I would maybe criticize them. Once they said, ‘please, if you make a criticism, can you tell us before. You will make an evaluation of our museum not only as an archaeologist, but also as someone who has not seen our museum before, so you will see things that we don’t see.’ And then they changed things. I saw it, and I [caused something to be] changed. I guess it was good for both of us.

TEA: I saw online that you have a “’Miss Jones’ of 2023” initiative. Can you tell me what that’s about?

G. Wilts: On Women’s Day (8th of March), I try to name the ‘Miss Jones’ of the year every year. I try to name a woman who has done something that is really exciting and great, and maybe related to cultural history. I try to pick adventure girls or strong political persons and archaeologists. This is important. This year it is Margarita Bieber. She was chosen through collaboration with ArkArcha, a research project which hired me as a social media person.

But if you want to be Miss Jones of the year, you have to be dead. It’s only about dead people!

G. Wilts on politics: I think sometimes archaeologists have a lack of understanding of being political. There will soon come an article in the German theoretical journal Kritische Archäologie in which I write that combining activism and archaeology is a chance for everyone because we can show that our methodology and our style of thinking can change a lot. We can help research about political topics. For example, I will be in Lampedusa [Italy] to do research about the refugee boats there. We can do a lot of good things. We can just do it! Everyone is scared about it. Yes, in the Nazi times, the SS was using all this racist stuff. But we are now the people in the subject who are able to stop this and to not misuse archaeology [but] to use archaeology.

TEA: Will the blog eventually become a permanent thing, or do you want to keep it as a passion?

G. Wilts: For me, it is impossible to do things without passion. I am not someone who thinks so much about the future. I don’t think about [where I am going to be] in ten years. We only have one life. As archaeologists, we know that we have this long past of human history. We know that a lot of people are already dead, and that we are going to die [one day]. In [thinking of] my future plans and my past, I never live today. I want to live today. I want to write with passion, because this is what I love.

I was very politically active. I have been living in squatted housing, been arrested, been in prison. I got into more trouble than many other archaeologists. I learned by myself that I don’t want to hide. I am proud of what I am doing. Fighting against homelessness, fighting for queer people is nothing [for which] I want to hide.

So, I changed my mind. When I started Miss Jones it was completely something else. …I did not show my face…but then I found out as I was writing the first political articles, that I [would] use my name, because I had the experience that the media would take my life story and make money with it. And [if] I never show my face and give my name, I cannot prove it.

For example, there was a musical [made] about the squat I was living in in Vienna. They made a musical out of it! Of myself and my squat friends…my family. They made a musical out of it! This is so ridiculous. And I cannot say anything about it, because we never say our names. I decided that I want to be the boss of my history, so I changed this.

TEA: Do you have any advice for young archaeologists just starting out? These young girls who don’t know what to do with their lives? What would you say to them?

G. Wilts: Do. Do. And do what you like to do.

1Editor’s Note: Since this interview took place, Geesche Wilts’ plans changed. Instead of walking from Firenze to Pisa, she instead travelled to Lampedusa to do contemporary archaeology on refugee boats. This project was accepted thereafter by Kiel University as a PhD project.

Click here for a video of the full interview.

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Reading from award-winning comic Post Hole

Daniela Heller
Independent author

It is summer in southern Germany. Two young women are working on an archaeological excavation during their semester break. Between tarps, barrows, and curious onlookers, they uncover the remains of an Iron Age settlement: post holes, the last traces of long-gone wooden houses in the earth. While the two friends remove layer after layer of human past, their thoughts revolve around their uncertain professional future. When a position suddenly becomes vacant on the excavation, an unwanted rivalry arises between them, which puts their friendship to the test. And it is not just the remains of Iron Age houses that are being unearthed; buried memories and repressed grief also come to light.

Post Hole (original German title: Pfostenloch) is a story about friendship, archaeology, and people’s remains – both in the earth and in memory. It also asks the question of what it actually is that archaeologists are searching for and what it is they find. Small spoiler: It’s not gold.

The book was released in German in 2022 by the Berlin comic publisher avant-verlag. It can be ordered here as well as in any bookstore (in German only). It was also awarded the “Max-und-Moritz” prize (considered the most important recognition for German-language comic material) for the best German language debut at the biennial Bestes deutschsprachiges Comic-Debüt 2 (comic-salon.de)International Comics Show in Erlangen (Germany).

Click here for a sample comic reading by the author (in English).

Pfostenloch © Daniela Heller and avant-verlag, 2022

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Volunteer and Amateur Archaeologists: Definitions, Activities and Profiles

Jean-Olivier Gransard-Desmond
ArkeoTopia and Archéologie et Archéométrie

Editors’ Note: An earlier, French-language version of this article was published online on ArkeoTopia in 2023. This English-language version is published with permission.

Since archaeological research became a professional activity in the 1970s, amateur and volunteer archaeologists and their contributions have been living in the shadow of professionals. Along with amateur archaeologists, volunteer archaeologists should not be forgotten!

Volunteer and amateur archaeologists: Who are they?

The term ‘amateur archaeologist’ refers to a person who regularly performs volunteer work in a scientific discipline without relevant specialized training (Gransard-Desmond 2019, p. 167). Because amateur scientists have not received specialized training, there is no guarantee of the quality of their work (though it may not necessarily be lacking!). The motivation and availability of amateur archaeologists count as considerable assets to professional archaeologists.

Figure 5. Considered an archaeological desert, the Dune of Pilat would not have revealed its treasures during the 2018 excavation if Philippe Jacques had not gotten involved as a volunteer archaeologist. Image CC BY-SA Gransard-Desmond, October 2018.

Amateur archaeologists can be juxtaposed with what are known as ‘volunteer archaeologists’, a term which refers to educated persons with relevant training and/or degrees, who carry out research without pay in addition to their main salaried occupation (Gransard-Desmond 2019, p. 167). Their qualifications mean that they are equally capable of carrying out their research autonomously as well as in collaboration with professional archaeologists, in the field or in the laboratory. See Figure 5. Volunteer archaeologists may work independently of any research structure, as is the case for members of the National Coalition of Independent Scholars. They can also be part of private or public research structures. This is why the term ‘volunteer’ has been preferentially chosen over ‘independent’ (see also discussion in Gransard-Desmond and Houdin 2018; subtitled in English).

What is the non-professional contribution to archaeological research?

As Eliott de la Michellerie points out (2021), studying archaeology is not a prerequisite for participation in excavations. The profiles of amateur archaeologists are diverse; what really matters is passion and attentiveness. “Once in the field, their skills sometimes prove superior to those of archaeology graduates,” notes Marie-Élise Gardel, a retired professional archaeologist interviewed by the author. There are many potential tasks, ranging from posing research questions to publishing articles and including everything from surveying, helping with equipment inventories, clearing sectors and performing functional analysis of archaeological remains. Each person must carve out their own niche according to their capacities on site and they must do so diplomatically in order to make their aid both effective as well as qualitative. See Figure 6.

Figure 6. At any excavation site, everyone keeps an eye on each other to make sure the digging goes well. - image CC BY-SA 3.0 Eric H. Cline via Wikimedia Commons.

Volunteer archaeologists do more than just help with the day-to-day tasks of an archaeological excavation or project. They also offer a path to innovation. Whether they are privately or publicly employed, professional archaeologists (that is, those who are paid for their work) are constrained either by intervention limitations (such as in rescue archaeology) or by organizational constraints. For Philippe Jacques, a professor in engineering science professor and volunteer archaeologist with field training, that was all it took. “I prefer to be a volunteer and to be free to choose how I work and what to work on,” he informed Eliott de la Michellerie (2023). Considered an archaeological desert, Philippe Jacques has been working on La dune du Pilat since 1979. In 2018, he obtained astonishing results (Jacques 2021). See Figure 5.

Just like professional archaeologists, amateur and volunteer archaeologists also play an important and front-line role in the fight against vandalism and looting. See Figure 7.

Figure 7. Archaeological researchers act as a shield against looters. - Image CC BY-SA Gransard-Desmond, 2024.

What are their profiles?

Although there are existing studies on professional archaeologists such as Discovering Archaeologists in Europe (DISCO) program and even on amateur archaeologists with the development of the citizen science and open science movements (see Figure 8), the first study about volunteer scientists with statistics was published in 2023, though this did not focus on archaeology or social sciences (Lund p. 283). There is as yet no equivalent for amateur scientists.

In generally, volunteer scientists are far more numerous than one might assume. For example, the Lund team counted 3,852 volunteer scientists from ten different countries working in health-related fields (2023). The National Coalition of Independent Scholars (NCIS) has existed since 1989 in order to facilitate the work of independent scholars not supported by an institution (the National Coalition of Independent Scholars 2014). In terms of archaeology specifically, the EAA directory includes 28 Members who describe themselves as independent researchers; colleagues presenting in my paper for the Canadian Journal of Bioethics (Gransard-Desmond 2019) further underscore that this group must be accounted for. Perhaps the next DISCO project could introduce both profiles, drawing on learned societies such as the Comité des travaux historiques et scientifiques (Committee of historic and scientific works, which has since produced a directory of archaeological associations), those just-mentioned associations themselves and their European equivalents.

Figure 8. Discovering Archaeologists in Europe, a program run by an EAA community since 2008. Will the next project include the profile of amateur and volunteer archaeologists? © DISCO, 2014.


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A survey on the impact of archaeological damage on the scientific community: Responses due by 15th March

Irina Olevska-Kairisa
Maastricht University

The scientific/professional community is inevitably affected by damage to or the destruction of heritage sites (including archaeological ones). Nevertheless, evidence suggests that, as a general rule, neither the impaired rights of heritage professionals nor the harm they suffer by such damages are recognized or redressed within legal proceedings (e.g., Poyser et al., 2022; Olevska-Kairisa and Kairiss, 2023). Thus, the voice of archaeologists is heard neither at the adjudicative, nor at the political level. To identify and prove the harm caused to archaeologists and heritage professionals by acts of vandalism, damage, destruction and other illegal activities on archaeological sites, I (Irina Olevska-Kairisa, EAA Member and doctoral candidate) would like to kindly request Members to fill in a short questionnaire by 15 March, 2024. The findings of this survey will help to establish:

  • the nature and scope of heritage crimes’ impact on the scientific/professional community of archaeologists and heritage professionals;
  • the severity of the infringement of fundamental cultural rights of such community (including the right to access, enjoy and research heritage objects, participate in decision-making, etc.) caused by illegal intervention into the integrity of archaeological sites.
The final survey results in an aggregated form will be made available to the EAA Board and will be presented at the Community on the Illicit Trade in Cultural Materials’ (henceforth ‘the Community’) session at the 30th Annual Meeting of the EAA in Rome. From a longer-term perspective, these results might further be used to raise the voice of archaeologists and heritage professionals within court proceedings as well as in decision- and policy-making processes.


Discussion at the EAA session

On 1 September 2023 at the 29th Annual Meeting of the EAA in Belfast, the Community had a round-table session dedicated to—among other issues—the social impact of heritage crimes and aspects of human rights. The question of the impact of archaeological damage on archaeologists engendered a heated discussion. Most of our colleagues mentioned “indignation”, “helplessness” and “spite” as the feelings they experience when yet another case of damage, vandalism or the destruction of archaeological sites comes to light. Besides active emotional reactions, Members raised practical concerns about changing the situation for the better (e.g. to reduce the number of cases of damage, to change authorities’ attitude, to prioritize pre-trial investigations of heritage crimes, to receive adequate adjudicative replies, etc.). The survey mentioned above originated partially as a response to this discussion in order to initiate practical steps toward the recognition of the multifaceted harm caused by illegal interventions at archaeological sites.

General framework

In addition to being immovable property objects, heritage sites bear significant socioeconomic value. Different stakeholders are interested in the integrity and development of heritage objects: owners, local residents, NGOs, heritage-related businesses, municipalities, countries and even global society and future generations. One of the important groups of stakeholders is researchers. Researchers often serve as conduits of information and knowledge, thus contributing substantially to the increase and justification of the socioeconomic value attributed to heritage sites in the first place.

When the integrity of heritage sites is affected, it inevitably affects the interests of all the different kinds of stakeholders (to different extents based on the relationship of the respective stakeholders vis-a-vis heritage objects). Thus, the harm caused goes far beyond mere damage to property. Nevertheless, heritage crime is often perceived of as being victimless by society and law enforcement (e.g. Lostal 2021; Manacorda, Visconti, 2013). This leads to low prioritization of these crimes, lack of social support, complexities in access to legal justice for the injured parties, ineffective sanctions and the absence of reparations for the harms caused (Olevska-Kairisa and Kairiss 2023). In Latvia, for instance, the State is generally recognized as the only victim of the damage or destruction of archaeological objects. Neither owners (whose sites were affected by illegal intervention), nor more remote parties seem to be considered potential victims by law enforcement bodies. Moreover, they have never tried to claim harm suffered within criminal proceedings. In these cases, the harm caused to the State is expressed in monetary terms; the amounts applied for are generally inadequately low (Kairiss and Olevska 2021).

This survey represents a practical step in rethinking the scope of those parties that are harmed in heritage crimes, by more clearly showing the level and nature of the harm caused to the scientific/ professional community by illegal activities which harm archaeological sites.

Fundamental rights of the scientific community

Human rights are inherent to all of us. They range from the ‘right to life’ to the rights that make life worth living. Cultural rights were recognized as fundamental human rights from the mid-20th century. However, with the main emphasis on the development of civil and political rights, over time, cultural rights have remained significantly less developed.

Cultural rights have different manifestations (e.g. Fribourg Declaration on Cultural Rights 2007). One of the most broadly-recognized of these is the right to access and enjoy culture. Access to culture covers
“…in particular the right of everyone — alone, in association with others or as a community — to know and understand his or her own culture and that of others through education and information, and to receive quality education and training with due regard for cultural identity” (CESCR 2009).

Archaeologists could be considered as both the holders (along with other members of society) and the enforcers of this right. Farida Shaheed, UN Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights, singled out “scientists” (among others) as a group having a vested interest in cultural rights due to their relationship with cultural heritage (HRC Report 2011). Ms. Shaheed emphasized that this “grouping” holds significant implications for States, notably when establishing consultations and participation procedures (as well as ensuring access to effective remedies, including judicial avenues), in cases where they believe cultural heritage is not adequately respected or protected, or if their rights to access and enjoy cultural heritage have been violated (ibid).

Thus, it can be concluded that—alone or as a community—researchers should be consulted and considered in the definition, elaboration and implementation of policies and decisions regarding heritage objects. In addition, the harm they suffer should be recognized and accounted for (redressed) within the legal proceedings concerning the damage of heritage sites.

While cultural rights are increasingly declared in a broad range of international and regional documents, they currently have restricted practical applicability. The survey mentioned at the start of this document is intended to contribute to the interpretation of the apparent scope of the right to access and enjoy culture from the standpoint of the scientific/ professional community.

Relevant practice

Precedent was established within the international arena when numerous groups of injured parties united by a certain feature (territorial affiliation, level of significance of the sites, etc.) were recognized as victims of heritage crime. Thus, in Prosecutor v. Ahmad Al Faqi Al Mahdi, where Mr. Al Mahdi was accused of destroying nine mausoleums and a mosque in Timbuktu (Mali) in 2012, besides guardian families responsible for the maintenance of the sites, the International Criminal Court specified the following groups of victims (Al Mahdi Judgment, para. 80; Al Mahdi Reparations order, para. 54):

  • the faithful inhabitants of Timbuktu;
  • people throughout Mali and
  • the international community.
The ICC acknowledged that each of these groups suffered a certain type of harm (material and/or moral) and assigned reparations, including: reconstruction/ renovation of the sites, community-based educational and awareness-raising programmes to promote Timbuktu’s important and unique cultural heritage, cash assistance programmes to restore some of Timbuktu’s lost economic activity, apologies from the perpetrator and certain symbolic reparations, etc. An illustration of these concentric groups of victims (Lostal 2021) can be seen in Figure 25.


Figure 25.
Groups of victims and assigned reparations in Al Mahdi case. Image from A. Kairiss’s and I.Olevska’s presentation “Offence against archaeological heritage – is each of us a victim?” at the EAA 2022 AM in Budapest.

United under the auspices of the EAA, the scientific community might serve as another no less important group which is affected by illegal interventions at archaeological sites. The harm caused to the scientific community is multifaceted. It affects researchers in a broader fashion then purely through their profession. For example, when asked in which capacity members of the Latvian Society of Archaeologists (LSA) feel affected/ suffered if any object of Latvian archaeological heritage is damaged, vandalised or destroyed as a result of illegal activity, there were the following answers. See Figure 26.

Figure 26.
Capacity in which members of the Latvian Society of Archaeologists (LSA) feel harmed in cases of vandalism, damage to or destruction of an object of Latvian archaeological heritage. Twenty of the total of 69 active LSA members responded to the survey. Multiple answers were possible. The data were revealed by A. Kairiss (vice-chair of the Community) at his presentation “Socio-economic interests suffered due to damage and destruction of archaeological sites” at the EAA 2023 AM in Belfast (The survey was performed by A.Kairiss and the present author in March 2023)

Additionally, the members of the LSA were asked what in their opinion the appropriate compensation for the damage caused would be if they believed that the State should recognise them as victims of the damage/destruction of an archaeological heritage site. Responses can be seen in Figure 27.

Figure 27.
Personal evaluation of the appropriate compensations for the damage caused if the members of the LSA were considered victims of damage/destruction of an archaeological heritage site. Multiple answers were possible. The data were revealed by A. Kairiss (vice-chair of the Community) at his presentation “Socio-economic interests suffered due to damage and destruction of archaeological sites” at the EAA 2023 AM in Belfast (The survey was performed by A.Kairiss and the present author in March 2023). Twenty of the total of 69 active LSA members responded to the survey.

The LSA as a legal entity in itself holds that it should be recognised as an injured party in cases of the damage or destruction of Latvian archaeological sites. The LSA believes that, in such instances, its members represent the scientific community. Should damages to sites occur, then archaeologists would be restricted in or even entirely deprived of the possibility of scientific archaeological research at the affected site (interview with is Mr. M. Kalniņš, Chairman of the Board of the LSA ). In this case, the LSA would consider “a compensation fee from the perpetrator to be allocated into state-supported heritage conservation programmes (so that the LSA, e.g., could apply for these funds within a competition or it could be considered as a certain kind of moral compensation)” and “non-material compensation from the perpetrator (public apology to the Latvian scientific community)” as appropriate reparations (ibid).

The survey offered here is, therefore, of particular importance to establishing the nature and scope of harm suffered by researchers and heritage professionals in cases of illegal interventions in archaeological sites at the European level. This would help fill in the gap in our practical understanding of the scope of cultural rights and to help contribute to their enforcement.

Debunking concerns

Before submission of this article, the initiative was put to the Community, Advisory Committee and the Executive Board of the EAA. Along the way, several concerns were raised regarding its scope and reasonableness. A couple of the issues raised, while valid, were not included in the survey due to various reasons (see below). It should be stressed that the current survey is a first step in the process of rethinking the role and place of scientific community in heritage crimes and in the realization of cultural rights. Concerns raised by the colleagues may and should be considered at the later stages of more in-depth analysis.

Interestingly, one of the concerns raised by those consulted was in relation to the scope of the survey. In particular, there was the question of why it relates to vandalism, looting and destruction and not to so-called ‘authorized’ damage (e.g. poor-quality restorations). While jurisdiction differs from country to country in relation to the improper treatment of heritage sites, destroying, damaging or altering heritage sites is universally criminalized (Prott, O’Keefe, 1984). Therefore, since members of the EAA represent different countries, the survey is oriented at the ‘basic’ form of illegal activity to be penalized throughout all jurisdictions.

The second concern related to the focus group, in particular; it asked why archaeologists should be asked these questions and not the general public. After all, they, too, are stakeholders in heritage, broadly speaking. The EAA forms a large and comparatively easily identifiable professional community that represents most (if not all) European countries as well as nations beyond the EU. One of the survey questions particularly stresses the capacity in which EAA members feel injured. If the survey results show that archaeologists feel injured not only in their professional capacity, we can use this as a stepping stone for further larger-scale investigations at the level of general public.

To conclude, the scientific community currently is often left outside without the possibility to effectively raise its voice and access justice. If the survey does show that archaeologists and heritage professionals consider themselves to be impacted/injured parties, it might bring about a breakthrough in heritage legislation policy and contribute to the implementation of cultural rights both in policy and in practice.


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