Archaeology must be returned to the people, says Henny Groenendijk, Professor of Archaeology & Society at the University of Groningen and archaeologist in the province of Groningen. In late October, Groenendijk took the opportunity provided by the Beyond Archaeology conference to present the Groningen Model, an innovative step-by-step plan for adding new dimensions to the marriage contract between archaeology and society. The Model revolves around valorizing knowledge rather than laying down rules. ‘It’s difficult to generate sympathy for archaeology when all you can do is draw attention to the strict regulations concerning heritage.’
‘First things first: it is obviously important to protect the cultural heritage recovered from the ground as archaeological remains; things such as settlements, burial grounds and utensils. In far too many cases, excavation means destruction. If excavation work is not carried out professionally, you risk destroying local history. But in a developing society where people are becoming more autonomous and discerning, it is up to archaeologists to impress the importance of archaeology on the general public and involve them in the archaeological process. Simply churning out rules and regulations no longer works.’
‘Current legislation makes archaeological excavation the exclusive preserve of academic science, with qualified archaeologists holding sole rights. But many digs take place on agricultural land. Farmers must comply with regulations that they find intimidating and restrictive. As a result, emotions run high and we find ourselves in unnecessary conflicts. The issue of forming practical alliances between archaeologists, the civil service, farmers and other stakeholders was the main theme at the Beyond Archaeology conference.’
Groenendijk: ‘The Groningen Model formulates solutions that could help to forge long-term ties between archaeology and society. We take three constructive elements: activating local participation in archaeological work processes is the first. Local people are asked about their expectations regarding an archaeological dig or non-disruptive mapping. This strategy allows people to step into the shoes of the archaeologist. They get a glimpse of archaeology in progress, from the preparation stage through to the final report.’
‘The second element involves emphasizing our joint responsibility in protecting heritage. Like it or not, we are all responsible for our local or regional history. Here too, it’s not about stressing the rules and regulations, but about encouraging people to accept their role in answering the question: how can we solve this together?’
‘Thirdly, and possibly most importantly, archaeology must try to accomplish sustainable knowledge transfer, so that the local population has access to expert knowledge about the latest developments, about the whys and wherefores of an excavation or about setting up an archaeology project . Internet forums about archaeology or the extensive network of amateur archaeologists already operating in the Netherlands would be the perfect instrument for this. I have every faith in them.’
Groenendijk: ‘Take the successful part played by the local population in the mapping of the
convent in Essen. From 1215 to 1594, a Cistercian convent stood on the current site of the hamlet of Essen, in the municipality of Haren near Groningen. The convent was inhabited by the daughters of well-to-do families from the city of Groningen. The entire area had been designated cultural heritage. Archaeological regulations stated that the location must be protected, but local people had been living here for decades.’
‘So we sat down with the population of the hamlet at an early stage in the process and came up with a sort of trade-off. We, the archaeologists, said: all the digging on your land means that you will be right up-to-date on the history beneath your feet and the objects dug up during excavation work. We archaeologists can ascertain whether the finds and the traces still in the ground are actually part of the former convent.
‘We used this joint information to dig test trenches and pinpoint the exact position of the protected cultural heritage under the ground. The map means that the population of the hamlet can now build and dig anywhere that is not designated cultural heritage, which is a huge step forwards. The document has been officially endorsed by the Haren municipal authorities, the body legally responsible for archaeology in this area.’
Groenendijk: ‘One of our future ambitions is to intensify our collaboration with North-Germany. German archaeologists have a staggering amount of archaeological knowledge in highly accurate archives. Our attitude to social developments has always been a bit more flexible. By activating the Groningen Model in Germany, we could merge these two worlds and create exciting new opportunities and prospects for interregional archaeology.’
Prof. dr. H.A. (Henny) Groenendijk
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