Archaeology and the Future of Democracy

by Thomas Meier (, Staša Babić, József Laszlovszky, Carsten Paludan-Müller, Felipe Criado-Boado

When the EAA was founded at its inaugural meeting in Ljubljana in 1994, there was a euphoria firmly grounded in the shared values of the post-1945 and post-1989-world and the vision of a united Europe. Hardly anybody foresaw that 25 years later, these European fundaments would be deeply questioned and eroded both from its core and from its fringes. Today the EAA has become one of the leading independent non-governmental organisations in the field of archaeology and heritage and thus a political actor in civil society. We take the stance that from today’s unimagined political threats a societal responsibility of the EAA develops and that our organisation should be obliged to promote and defend an open, inclusive, tolerant and democratic society for future generations. Similar claims have recently been published by other academic independent non-governmental organisations like the Verband der Historiker und Historikerinnen Deutschlands ( [27/06/2019]).

I. The political responsibility of archaeology

The shared European values of democracy and universal human rights (UN 1948; CoE 1950) are fundamentally threatened today. Although the European elections at end of May seem to indicate that the upswing of populist and radical parties has been stopped in many countries, we still cannot foresee the long-term effects of the political turmoil over the last years. In other and some of them even major European countries the extremist fringes still experience a growing popular acceptance ( [30/05/2019]). Social closure of the upper classes, the disruption of the post-war achievement of a socially embedded and democratically controlled market economy culminating in an uncontrolled and ongoing neo-liberal dissolution of the welfare-state, democratic deficits from the European Union down to many regional and local bodies, non-transparent administrative and juridical processes and corruption, these altogether produce continued experiences of frustration with the political field in general, lack of opportunities for the individuals or even entire generations, socio-economic uncertainty and growing social inequality – not the least in archaeology itself ( [30/05/2019]). These home-made failures challenge the power of democracy to absorb and offer a voice and a credible political perspective to concerns of major segments of the population. They undermine the trust into democratic and equal participation of all people and their control of power. This makes people abandon the centre-ground of society and paves the way for a growing unwillingness to accept the legitimacy of opposing political positions on a shared democratic platform.

Such developments may look rather far away from archaeology, which translates material remains into histories. But the narratives archaeologists produce are inevitably produced by and act as political actions in the present. By re-constructing past worlds archaeology reflects on the trajectories and values which stabilise or question today's social orders and which will result from today's world and from today's choices that create the worlds of tomorrow. Archaeologists’ deep perspective on human history in space and time brings along a special responsibility for the future. Archaeologists are scholars and at the same time citizens with responsibilities towards their societies and with political stances. This is why archaeologists as citizens are inevitably political – regardless whether they want to or not. Having said this, we feel that in a time of eminent crisis alleged neutrality in the sense of not standing up for democracy, pluralism and an open society is no ethically viable position for academia in general and especially not for historical disciplines.

II. Archaeology and democracy

The EAA, enjoying participatory status as an independent non-governmental organisation at the Council of Europe, being committed to the aims of its Convention on the Protection of the Archaeological Heritage (CoE 1992) and in the light of its Framework Convention on the Value of Cultural Heritage for Society (CoE 2005) is deeply devoted to the Council of Europe's understanding of cultural heritage as source of the European collective memory (CoE 2005 expl. rep.)– though often battled, violent and dark –, which includes and is based on “the ideals, principles and values, derived from the experience gained through progress and past conflicts, which foster the development of a peaceful and stable society, founded on respect for human rights, democracy and the rule of law” (CoE 2005, art. 3b).

Given the many violently waged intra-European conflicts of the past, European unification based on a commitment to pluralistic democracy and inalienable human rights is one of the most important accomplishments of the 20th century. Unilateral and nationalist actions threaten this historical achievement and cannot meet the political, humanitarian, ecological, social and economic challenges of the globalised present and future. Also, in light of colonial violence committed by Europeans in other parts of the world, it is crucial to acknowledge our shared responsibility for the consequences of our policies and discourses in regions outside of Europe. Democracy is at great risk today. Archaeologists as professionals with particular training and insight into human affairs from a deep time perspective know that democracy and human rights are far from universal, but that they are the greatest and very recent European contributions to global history. But archaeologist also know about likely scenarios of the future, their trajectories and conditions. As academics it is not our position to make political choices – these are decisions to be adopted through democratic mechanisms (Weber 1919). But it is our societal duty to recommend the most reasonable options and warn of traps. The choices, however, are political.

III. Openness, respect and inclusion

The unquestioned respect for and broadest possible inclusion of unrestricted plurality is the litmus test for democracy and diversity is its main ingredient. Political discussion in a democracy involves pointed language that clearly expresses one’s own position but does not deny other people fundamental respect. Derogatory descriptions as “enemies of the people”, calling the media producers of “fake news” or the individual postulation of “alternative facts” are not based on a rational contest of the best arguments, which is the characteristic of modernity (Habermas 1985), but on defamation and exclusion and thus destroy the achievements of the enlightenment as a fundamental shared European ethical heritage and global value. Historical examples frequently have proven the dangerous effects of using disparaging terms to exclude perceived “others”.

The idea of a culturally homogenous and stable nation is historical fiction and has often had catastrophic results for communities that followed this ideology. National fiction is still at the fundament of many nation states and easily turns into nationalistic chauvinism, marginalising minorities on the territories of these states, e.g. Roma, Sami, Sorbs, Cypriot Maronites, Kashubians, Frisians or Kurds to name only a few, but also minorities from neighbouring states. At the same time minorities within larger nation states claim independence for their own countries and seek to split Europe into a blanket of smaller, sovereign nation states (e.g. Catalans, Scots etc.). Focussing on minorities, an archaeological long-term perspective also shows that individual and mass-migration are as normal as the constant re-formations of identities and the permanent transformations of societies in transcultural processes. But history demonstrates as well that mass migration, identity shifts and cultural transformations can sometimes take the way of confrontations, violent upheavals or even pogroms and genocide. While it is beyond any doubt that migrations and transformations were, are and will be happening it is the power of archaeology as a historical discipline to guide ways, how migrations and transformations can be managed peacefully and to the benefit of all involved. Equality and diversity are lessons to be learned from archaeology for a peaceful society.

Despite all the problems frequently connected with migrations and transformations, on the whole they have benefited societies – including Europe’s. It is therefore vital and rational and in the best of European traditions to work toward proactive, pragmatic policies on migration, integration and cultural development that are based on both human and international rights. The right to political asylum must be warranted and help must be provided in humanitarian crises as it is guaranteed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UN 1948) and other declarations. The duty to provide this falls to Europe not only because of its economic power as the richest continent of the world but also for reasons of its historical responsibility and humanitarian traditions, preceded by Christian, Jewish and Islamic traditions.

IV. Heritage and participation

In its Barcelona statement (2018) the EAA fosters “a central and embedded position for Cultural Heritage in social policy and political agendas, ranging from economic and social cohesion policy to spatial planning, structural development, education and science” ( [30.5.2019]). Heritage, however, is open to many interpretations and narratives and is now – again – informing reactionary discourses and practices to promote a growing and divisive form of historical revisionism and exclusion. Such interpretations of the past are not necessarily confined to nationalist agendas, but may also – consciously or not – guide scientific readings of archaeological, anthropological and material culture studies. Archaeologists and heritage specialists have the capacity not only to scrutinise and reject revisionist misrepresentation of the past, but also – equally important – to understand their motivations and backgrounds aiming to enter into dialogues with all social groups and produce open, diverse and dialogical knowledge. Today we know that archaeology and heritage are interpretive and therefore narrative, dialogical. This calls for democratic open debate as part of archaeological and heritage practices.

V. Academic freedom, institutional autonomy and open society

In democracies policy is the result of open debates, which allow any political opinions and social interests to be expressed. Independent non-governmental organisations like the EAA are a vital achievement of European history, guaranteeing the freedom and diversity of expression and association both of which are fundamental to democracy. This includes the obligation to raise one's voice and contribute to the diversity of the political discourse. A so-called unified will of the people claimed as a legitimising mandate by those regarding themselves as “called” is, in contrast, used by persons in political debates primarily for the purpose of preventing themselves from being scrutinised and paves the way to autocratic, exclusive and unhumanitarian regimes.

In democratic societies politically and economically independent media control all stately powers as a fourth power beyond the legislative, executive and judicial powers. In this balance of powers academia, as a kind of fifth power, and democracy inherently depend on each other: While it is the quality of democratic societies to grant and protect academic freedom and institutional autonomy, intellectual reflection and critical inquiry into the worlds past, present and future is the political duty of academia. This includes academia's obligation to reflect on its own presuppositions, assumptions and plausibilities, but also on its failure in social exclusion, political blindness and reluctance towards public engagement. This duty also includes the obligation of academics and other professionals, to participate in the public debate and to clearly distinguish between positions based on their professional expertise and positions based on their political engagement as democratic citizens equal to all others. Such critical reflection is the basis of a self-conscious, responsible and open society, and hence of democracy itself.


1. As (modern) democracy we define a form of government according to the principles of the sovereignty of the people, free elections, equality of votes, decisions by majority or consent, acceptance of a political opposition, division of power, rule of law based in human rights, freedom of speech, freedom of the media and academic freedom, freedom of meeting and association, protection of minorities etc.

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Posted July 23, 2019 by Katerina Kleinova
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Sustainable Cultural Tourism

by Roderick B. Salisbury, TEA Editor (

Tourism continues to grow as an industry, with ever increasing numbers of visitors flocking to cultural centres such as Athens, Barcelona, Venice, the Galapagos Islands, and so many other places that we know and appreciate. EAA, with our affiliated organizations and sister organizations, naturally promote the appreciation of archaeological heritage, and cultural heritage more broadly, to encourage unity through a sense of shared heritage. Increased tourism should not only bring people into contact with their shared history, but also expose them to different languages, different customs, and different people, providing a greater breadth of understanding about the human condition. Increasing tourism also brings increasing funds that help maintain heritage sites, especially important for many places that are routinely underfunded. The financial benefit also helps local economies in countries where industry has been outsourced and jobs are scarce. Improved economics, an educated public, and enhanced sense of unity and community are unquestionably positive effects.

Unfortunately, the rise in tourism also has a negative side – it can be unsustainable for the heritage, the local environment, and the quality of life for local residents. The impact of large cruise ships on Venice, as well as many other coastal heritage sites, is well documented (Aguirre & Brida 2008; Bernard 2016). Aside from litter from irresponsible tourists, the environmental impact can be hard to see. Hotels, resorts and other tourism infrastructure are often built in delicate environments and key habitats for threatened species. In some cases, construction is pushed through without proper impact assessments, in the hurry to get more money flowing into local economies. Noise pollution, energy consumption, trash and other waste also hurt local ecosystems. Several cities in Europe have seen public protests against the influx of summer tourists, including the Ocupació de les Rambles in Barcelona in 2017. Barcelona has since considered a Special Urban Plan for Tourist Accommodation to prevent over-tourism. Venice has proactively promoted a Sustainable Venice with a webpage, real-time posting of the number of visitors at the most popular spots, and the hashtag #EnjoyRespectVenezia, while also looking for ways to cap tourism.

As reported in The Telegraph, UNESCO recommends that no more than 8,000 people should be within Dubrovnik’s Old Town at any one time, and the city has moved to cap tourism to stay below that number, despite potential financial losses. Fortunately, UNESCO, ICOMOS and the EU are taking steps to tackle this problem. The ICOMOS International Cultural Tourism Committee (ICTC) produced “The Florence Declaration” on Cultural Heritage Conservation & Sustainable Tourism for Development in 2017. In 2018, the European Year of Cultural Heritage, the Sustainable Cultural Tourism Open Method of Coordination working group (SCT OMC) presented their work at the closing conference in Vienna, and released a report outlining their recommendations. There report can be found at this link: In a nutshell, SCT OMC insists that local communities must be empowered to participate as equal stakeholders in all development planning, and that sustainability requires a long-term perspective to offset the focus on short-term benefits.

While that presentation from EYCH 2018 was the impetus for this essay (the author attended and reported in TEA59, Winter 2019), recent developments within the EAA are encouraging, suggesting that our organization now has enough members and adequate networks to address several challenges currently facing archaeology, including that of sustainable cultural tourism. In this issue of TEA, Margaret Gowen reports on the Sense and Sensibility conference held in Zagreb in May 2019, co-organized by the EAA Community on Integrating Archaeological Heritage Management and Tourism.

Digital archaeology, while still developing as a subfield and relatively poorly defined, provides one arena for presenting some aspects of archaeological heritage that might otherwise be overwhelmed by tourism. 3D replicas of artefacts and monuments provide impressions of the past while preserving the actual objects from human or environmental impacts. One unfortunate downside of 3D modelling is that monuments are removed from their social and spatial context, thereby giving visitors an abstracted and decontextualized view of the past. Future exhibits might leverage digital technology to embed 3D reconstructions in virtual sights, sounds and smells. In any case, archaeology is well-positioned to contribute to these developments.

Marketing is also an area where archaeologists can contribute. Sites such as Stonehenge, Notre Dame, or Venice’s Grand Canal market themselves through constant exposure in the press and social media, and by word of mouth. Rather than trying to prevent people from travelling to learn about the past, we need to market other aspects of cultural tourism, and lesser known but equally informative archaeological sites, museums and digital/virtual opportunities.

We recommend that all EAA members keep the challenge of sustainable tourism in mind when presenting archaeological wonders from our respective regions and research areas. Promote awareness of the potential problems, and consider dedicating some of your research or work to develop indicators of heritage stress. UNESCO has a website with recommendations that can aid us in these endeavours, and all EAA members can join our Integrating Archaeological Heritage Management and Tourism community. Get involved, and help to foster sustainable – or even improved – archaeological tourism!


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