European Archaeological Council Heritage Management Symposium: “Archaeology and the Natural Environment”

Katalin Wollák, Heritage expert

A prestigious event on the now-resurgent international conference scene was held in the Natural History Museum in Vienna on 24–25 March 2022, when the institution hosted the 23rd European Archaeological Council (EAC) Heritage Management Symposium, entitled Archaeology and the Natural Environment.

The EAC was established in 1999 and its members include state institutions responsible for the management of archaeological heritage. The March 2022 conference was organized in a hybrid format, with streaming provided by the host museum for registered participants. The two-day symposium was preceded by meetings of the Board of Directors and various working groups. The Council renewed its strategy in 2015 focusing on the following new challenges: embedding archaeology in society, helping conscious, transparent choices in archaeological heritage management, and managing archaeological data in the digital age. In order to achieve these goals as articulated in the Amersfort Agenda, three new working groups were established. The first one is tasked with providing guidance on how the public interest is served by the system of development-led archaeology and to set up the guidance systems to support decision making. The second group focuses on systems of research frameworks, while the third one will provide background for articulating the significance of archaeological sites. Members of the EAA have already seen the joint efforts and common points of EAA and EAC on previous EAC symposiums or in the sessions dedicated to the EAC on the EAA annual conferences, as well as in the joint working group and other forms of collaboration. The quarterly summary of recent policies and funding opportunities in Europe is also financed jointly by the two organizations.

The EAC General Assembly was held on the morning of the first day of the Annual Meeting. A new President was elected; Ann Degraeve (Head of Archaeology at the Brussels Region Heritage Organisation) replaced Barney Sloane (Historic England, UK), who had served his three-year term. Among other things, the assembly voted on the new members of the Board, Malta’s accession as the 33rd member country of the EAC, as well as the Council’s new five-year strategy and communication plan. Reports were presented by the working groups and the Assembly adopted a statement on the armed conflict in Ukraine.

The launch of Volume 17 of the EAC publication series was part of the opening speech by outgoing President Barney Sloane. The volume contains the extended abstracts of the 2021 EAC symposium on Climate Change and Archaeology; the full-text version of the studies will be published in the next issue of Internet Archaeology. The volume was presented by Erzsébet Jerem, Director of Archaeolingua Foundation, the publishing house that has produced the EAC series for many years.

The conference was prepared and organized by the staff of the Federal Monuments Authority Austria (Andreas Picker, Bernhard Hebert, and René Ployer from the Bundesdenkmalamt), in collaboration with the Natural History Museum. Christoph Bazil, president of the Federal Monuments Authority, addressed the participants.

The keynote lecture of the symposium was given by Katrin Vohland, the Museum’s General Director, titled “Museums as mediators between the past and the future”. She emphasized the museums’ changing role in society, the new challenges in managing collections, including the new threats to museum objects posed by climate change and the increasing demand for the visibility of the artefacts’ societal value and for sustainability. In the latter respect, the museum staff is involved in making open metadata available to the wider public, while there are plans to utilize solar panels and geothermic energy in the daily operation of the museum facilities, which were built in 1889.

The conference’s concept note revolved around the idea that archaeological sites and monuments are part of our perceived environment, which has been formed through thousands of years of interaction between man and nature. Archaeological heritage can help us gain a better understanding of how the environment evolves. In addition, the excavation, preservation and presentation of archaeological sites all take place in the natural environment (habitats for plants and animals), where other factors have to be taken into consideration as well. This conference aimed to pave the way towards an interdisciplinary approach and was also addressed to experts from the natural sciences as well as natural conservation. This was also reflected in the three main sessions on 1) Archaeology as habitat – monuments and sites as habitats, 2) Archaeology and biodiversity, and 3) Archaeological heritage and natural heritage management – conflict or collaboration.

The first paper was given by landscape architect Andreas Nemmert, who presented the development program of Aguntum Archaeological Landscape Park in Austria, launched in 2014. According to a 2019 survey, the remains of the Roman town are located in an area that serves as a habitat for ca. 1000 plant and animal species. In the framework of an EU-funded project, perspectives of archaeological heritage protection and biodiversity were combined, and specialists from various fields of study cooperated to more fully integrate the archaeological remains in the natural environment, thereby making the experience more enjoyable to visitors.

Ela Miziri introduced the new management system from the Butrint National Park world heritage site in Albania. After prehistoric settlement, the area was home to a Greek colony, a Roman town and a bishopric that remained habited until the late medieval period. As recent research in the area revealed new information on the site and its environment, the archaeological and natural park has been expanded to incorporate more of the discovered values. Due to climatic fluctuations in the past two decades, parts of the archaeological complex are now under water, which has created serious problems in terms of conservation. An integrated management plan launched in 2021 and a management board that was joined by experts from a multitude of professional backgrounds have made it possible that more attention can be paid to both cultural and natural values and through which a sustainable long-term operation of the park is ensured.

Elena Vázquez’s paper presented the research, conservation and planned presentation of the shipwreck Mazarrón II (Murcia, Spain), a complex endeavour that started in 1994. The paper discussed the possibility of in situ conservation of the Phoenician (7th century BC) shipwreck, as well as the factors relevant for its potential extraction.

A case study presented by Mattias Schönbeck focused on the protection, preservation and 21st-century management issues of the Hemlanden Viking Age cemetery on the island of Björkö, and of the world heritage site known as Birka. This area became one of the first national parks in Sweden, in accordance with the natural conservation act adopted in 1909. The protection of the ca. 3000 Viking tumuli, dated to 750–975 BC, was envisioned in the 19th century through the preservation of the woodland that covered the island. In the 20th century, however, the dangers inherent in this method were realized and a revitalization of previous pastures and meadows was seen as the key to the long-term preservation of the site. Land management practices involving mowing and the provision for grazing animals serves both the cultural and the biological natural heritage in the area.

Cyril Dworsky discussed the prehistoric lake dwellings that constitute part of our transnational serial world heritage and currently underwater or in water-saturated alpine environments in six countries. Already in prehistoric times, constantly fluctuating water levels and floods contributed to a dynamic and complex building environment, and new water habitats were formed. Constructions around the Austrian lakes have been ongoing since the mid-20th century, which, combined with the disappearance of reeds, continues to have a severe impact on lake ecosystems. The paper discussed threats to local flora and fauna as well as to heritage, along with the various methods and projects launched to address these issues.

The last paper in Session 1 by Jan Mařík addressed the characteristics of two (archaeological and natural) heritage management systems through case studies from the Czech Republic, including risks posed by woodland management at archaeological sites. Although there are commendable examples, there is room for improvement in coordination, which would involve the joint management of databases and maps and an equal representation of archaeological and natural aspects in landscape development projects.

On the second day, the papers in Session 2 focused on archaeology and biodiversity, and the appearance, distribution and extinction of species in (pre)historic times as well as in the present. As the symposium was a hybrid event, there was an opportunity for some of the presenters to make their contribution online; these included the paper given by Bea de Cupere, which reflected on the changes in land and water fauna at 25 archaeological sites around Brussels, Belgium emphasizing the growing threats to autochthonous species. Zooarchaeological studies have the potential to facilitate a better understanding of present-day faunal changes and to inform programs aimed at sustainable landscape use maintaining biodiversity, such as the Oceans Past Initiative.

Presenters Hanna Hristova and Kalina Petkova divided their paper between in-person and online presentations. They discussed archaeobotanical results from settlement features of a multiperiod Bulgarian site that was dated to the 3rd century BC – 1st century AD. The analysis shed light on the past vegetation, including its topographic distribution, as well as their role in nutrition and rituals. Although the established methodology and technical background is available, the presenters identified the small number of available experts as a challenge.

Leo Klinke from the LVR-State Service for Archaeological Heritage presented a case study of the use of a cultural landscape in north Westphalia, Germany which included the anthropogenic impacts from the Neolithic to the late medieval period (through an analysis of Neolithic, Celtic and early medieval settlement structure, road networks and funeral practices combined with natural scientific data). New absolute dating data made it possible to explore how the changes in the natural environment were intertwined with human activities in greater depth as well as how such interactions facilitated a more reliable environmental historical reconstruction.

Session 3 aimed to provide an overview of the cooperation between the management of archaeological and natural heritage, not without a certain amount of self-criticism. It was discussed whether efficient cooperation or acting in experts’ self-interest is more frequent. In addition, participants were expected to present good practices as well as conflicts that still need resolution.

As the session’s first presenter, Rachel Opitz (Scotland) provided insight into the multifaceted research program conducted within the framework of the Interoperable Precision Agricultural and Archaeological Sensing Technologies (ipaast-czo) project. Among other thigs, this project aims to provide remote sensing data collected from agricultural fields in order to support integrated decision making in cultural and natural heritage management, and to inform the EU’s revised Common Agricultural Policy (which offers funding for sustainable land management). New precision agriculture datasets assist the interpretation of archaeological remote sensing and near-surface data. When these are combined, they have the potential to contribute to a more comprehensive land management scheme.

Thomas Becker, archaeologist at the State Office for the Preservation of Monuments Hesse, Germany, investigated the landscapes in the southern part of the province, between the Rhein, Main and Neckar rivers and the Odenwald mountains. This region has a rich archaeological heritage and is a frequently waterlogged area that is currently under the protection of Natura 2000. He emphasized the problems rooted in the predominance of nature conservation considerations, such as landscape rehabilitation envisaged under the EU’s Water Framework Directive, and the restoration of water habitats, during which the protection of cultural heritage is sometimes overlooked.

Thor Ingólfsson Hjaltalín first reported that heritage management tasks were transferred from Iceland’s Ministry of Culture to the Ministry of Environment. In Iceland, cultural heritage management has a longer history than nature preservation; the first archaeological sites became protected in 1817, while nature conservation laws were introduced only in the second half of the 20th century. However, nature preservation has since gained increasing attention and importance. Hjaltalín gave examples of the problems that arise from the different (often conflicting) regulations of the two protection regimes, which often result in a failure to protect the values of historic (cultural) landscapes. It is hoped that this recent transformation will provide an opportunity to expand the dialogue between the two fields and to cooperate while appreciating each other’s preferences.

Anu Lillak, called attention to the potentials inherent in double protection. One half of Estonia is covered by woodland, ca. 50% of which is owned by the state. Cooperation with the State Center of Woodland Management has been efficient for a long time. As archaeological heritage is viewed as part of the historical landscape, the information boards set up on trails in the protected or recreation areas address the archaeological heritage as well. The speaker presented a number of exemplary cooperation cases.

The nature conservation project Chance7 that focuses on the natural and cultural landscape between Siebenbirge and Sieg in Rheinland, Germany, also includes elements of archaeological heritage management. This was discussed in the next paper, presented by Christine Wohlfarth. An important part of Chance7 is to assess the condition (erosion, danger of flood) of known archaeological sites and the elements of the cultural landscape through various methods and the integration of that data into a GIS-based public database (KuLaDig). It is also intended to draft guidelines for policies of sustainable cultural landscape management and farming which take both the protection of values of the two disciplines and the interests of agriculture management into account.

Sandra Zirne, mentioned that archaeological monuments in Latvia are sufficiently safeguarded in areas that are under nature protection, and presented the management system by means of the examples of Moricsala Nature Reserve (part of which is a Mesolithic site) and Slītere National Park. The latter was divided into five management zones, where different activities are allowed or prohibited. The situation is different on the Livonian coast due to the increasing number of development projects there in recent years. She concluded her presentation with a positive example, where joint efforts for natural and cultural heritage protection resulted in the preservation of an endangered coastal site.

The last paper of the symposium was given by Leonard de Wit (a former president of EAC). His presentation shed light on the common points in the international regulation of heritage management and nature conservation in the Netherlands. At the beginning of his paper, de Wit mentioned that artefacts associated with the major European wars (that is, relics of destruction) are now kept in museum collections. The enormous losses of the two World Wars paved the way to the establishment of international and European institutions that advocate peace, and as part of this, they promote the protection of cultural heritage. These were first manifested in the early UNESCO conventions and Council of Europe treaties. The paper provided an overview of the development history of the EU’s nature protection policies with an eye to reflecting on the development trajectory of cultural heritage regulations, and furthermore made a few suggestions to facilitate a more efficient cooperation of the different disciplines.

The two-day symposium demonstrated the impact that analyses, methods and research results may have when presented outside the archaeological scene. Furthermore, the presentations showed the connections between archaeology and the more general issues of landscape use, planning and management. The contributors also pointed out that the results of various disciplines can contribute to the objectives of other fields and may facilitate the appreciation of archaeological values, results and datasets by experts involved in nature preservation. The only way to do this effectively is to take further steps and foster cooperation between these sometimes-conflicting disciplines and to make better use of synergies.

The papers given at the two-day symposium are available on the Natural History Museum’s YouTube channel via the following links: and .

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