“Live Like a Bronze Age Man for a Day!”

Archaeological parks in Hungary and elsewhere

MúzeumCafé 49.

There are some 300 open-air archaeological museums in Europe, attracting a total of 6-7 million visitors annually. True, the number is small compared to the popularity of Disneyland near Paris, which alone has double that number of visitors. Yet it is worth considering, since this field seems unexploited both by the museum profession and tourism, especially in Hungary. Due to their authentic reconstruction, open-air archaeological museums play an important role in archaeological research, while also contributing to the opportunities of presentation, since they enable visitors to directly connect with the age being presented.

Archaeopark, archaeological park, open-air archaeological museum, archaeological site, garden of ruins, ensemble of archaeological finds, archaeological items preserved in situ – they are all institutions which try to protect, preserve and display relics from a past age. Whenever you visit such a place, you are sure to see the results of archaeologists’ systematic work that often lasted for decades. Besides the specialities of the landscape, culture and the finds, the methods of presentation indicate the real difference. The Roman ruins under high-tech undulating steel plates in Spain’s Cartagena El Monite Archaeological Park appear under the same name as the open-air display of early Iron Age burial mounds and reconstructed Bronze and Iron Age buildings at the ‘Matrica’ Archaeological Park in Százhalombatta. The Carnuntum Archaeological Park, the largest museum in Austria presenting Roman culture, with its 3000-3100 objects and reconstructed buildings, has become well-known under the same name, and so have the two-hectare Mehrauli Archaeological Park in Delhi and the Angkor Archaeological Park in Cambodia. However, it is not necessary to go to various locations in the world to see the difference between the ways of presentation and these parks bearing the same name. It is sufficient to see how different venues can appear under the name of archaeological park in Hungary.

The conference and presentation days Archaeological Parks in Hungary. Experimental and environmental archaeology, museum educational opportunities in archaeological parks were held in Budaörs in 2007. Despite the then already lively international discourse, the conference participants did not manage to clarify what Hungarian museology and archaeology meant by the concept of an archaeological park. The preface of the volume published in connection with the conference emphasises the representation of the research results of experimental archaeology and archaeometry, the realization of reconstruction in cultivation, objects and buildings, as well as museum educational initiatives. In eth-nographic museology the professional and social consensus about the concept of open-air ethnographic museums and village folk museums has a history of several decades, yet it has not happened with respect to archaeological parks or open-air archaeological museums. Besides the already mentioned Archaeological Park in Százhalombatta, depicted as a positive example in the international literature, there were the Scarbantia Archaeological Park in Sopron, the Roman villa farmstead in Baláca, and the Aquincum Museum and the Intercisa Museum in Dunaújváros, which at the time still functioned rather as conventional gardens of ruin. While institutes based on Roman ruins and excavations have a long history, the Százhalombatta ‘Matrica’ Museum and the connected archaeological park have received visitors since 1987 and 1996 respectively. The traditional museum in the town centre presents the connection between man and the surrounding environment with an exhibition based on the dialogue of original objects. The main draw of the prehistoric open-air museum is an Iron Age burial mound, which was uniquely conserved and presented along with the reconstruction of buildings originating from the Bronze and Iron Ages. A multi-media application helps understanding of the burial rites and relics in addition to the remains that can be viewed in their original locations. An interesting initiative was the M3 Archao-Park, which opened in 2007 and which since then has largely changed its original goals. A rest area functioning as an archaeological park on the model of the L’archéodrome de Bourgogne by the A6 motorway in France was established with the support of the National Motorway Co. where findings from preliminary excavations, the natural environment, ethnographic heritage and the relationship between man and nature over millennia can all be studied. The park accommodated both authentic reconstructions and the Árpád-era Archaeological Park, introduced at the aforementioned conference, where five dwellings were authentically reconstructed on the basis of archaeological excavations in Kisrozvágy.In the 15-hectare park there are yurts, sunken houses and wooden dwellings with earth or stone foundations, and tradesmen’s houses characteristic of the era of the Hungarian Conquest are reconstructed by the quarters of chieftain Rozvad and in the neighbouring village of Berzseny. Visitors can focus on the way of life in the period from the Conquest to the foundation of the Hungarian state.

The Csiki Rest Garden – Árpád-age Archaeological Park in Budaörs with its various museum educational projects was founded with a similar aim. The Árpád-age village reconstruction in Tiszaalpár reproduces the settlement structure that was uncovered during excavations in the vicinity. It is a bit crowded compared to the original, since in reality a village would occupy 4-6 hectares. An exotic spot is represented by a New Scythian archaeological and way of life reconstruction established on private initiative next to the village of Regöly. The concept of an archaeological park is made similarly uncertain by the Emese Park hosting annual Viking Festivals, which aims to reconstruct the forms of settlements in 9th and 10th-century Europe while simultaneously providing entertaining adventures.

Perhaps the most important question with respect to the projects being realized at different standards, with different scientific backgrounds and funding bodies (state, local authority, foundation and private) concerns the way an open-air archaeological museum differs from a ruin garden or an in situ preserved object, or perhaps a theme park based on reconstruction. As Magdolna Vicze, director of the ‘Matrica’ Museum remarked at the aforementioned conference: “The Archaeological Park in Százhalombatta is different from other archaeological parks that have since opened elsewhere, because here besides the prehistoric reconstructed buildings, stoves and outhouses, original archaeological objects (burial moulds) restored in situ and the resettled former environment are simultaneously presented together. The museum staff work continuously, the park itself is a museum, a cultural place where exhibitions are staged, museum education is active and scientific research, reconstruction and experiential activity are constantly pursued. The Százhalombatta Archaeological Park is not only a tourist attraction, but also a functioning informative location for presentation and research, i.e. an open-air museum in the traditional sense.” These words clearly show the institutional type of an open-air archaeological museum which aims to keep the world of reconstruction based on archaeological sources and the methodology of events, shows and museum educational sessions within a firm professional framework. This type of museum can be related to open-air ethnographic museums which function as ethnographic collections and are scientifically managed and arranged with scholarly expertise. In a previous issue of MúzeumCafé Zsófia Frazon pointed out that open-air ethnographic museums have stressed the musealization of the architectural object of “folk culture” and constructed existing or fictitious spaces from them. They supplement the built environment in a natural manner, partly with objects that are characteristic of museums of ethnography and partly with reconstruction of the natural environment that surrounds the built heritage. However, a constant problem concerns how a museum can become a meeting point in the spirit of authentic presentation which properly applies the different methodological approaches. The issue is even more relevant for archaeological parks and open-air museums where archaeological results are intended to be interpreted in a similarly authentic manner while providing experiences. While ethnographic museums base their concepts on existing, dismantled, relocated or perhaps in situ preserved buildings, archaeological museums can rely on merely finds and connected hypotheses, and the much criticised principles of experimental archaeology. For some time experts have realized that in order for open-air archaeological museums, their research and projects to appear as authentic brands in the museological and cultural supply, or even in tourism, the various institutions must clarify these concepts on an international level. It is not sufficient for archaeological objects to be presented in a well-interpretable context that is acceptable for visitors who lack the historical information or that battles are fought in authentic costumes with authentic weapons amidst building reconstructions of different ages and authentic articles of everyday use, while offering food prepared authentically and allowing visitors to learn and try out contemporary techniques. A unified concept is required. EXARC (International Organisation of Archaeological Open-Air Museums and Experimental Archaeology), which today functions within ICOM, was established in 2001 with the aim of examining, contextualising, presenting and interpreting the archaeological and experimental archaeological heritage. The dynamically growing body with nearly 250 members today regards it important for European institutions involved in experimental archaeology and the staff of archaeological parks to have an efficient network of connections and for scientific results to be included in the practice of parks representing different ages and cultures as soon as possible. Thus the active process of the reconstruction of the past would become tangible and a new dimension of the experienced history would appear. A clear aim is for participants to submit applications efficiently, moreover to initiate large projects supported by the EU and have training in the fields of marketing, communications, public relations and museum management. Networks connecting the 30 countries in the organisation are formed, scientific conferences are held and their website regularly uploads the latest publications on the theme, news, events and the projects of member institutions. Thanks to EXARC the concept of an open-air archaeological museum has been clarified.

Accordingly, an open-air archaeological museum is a per-manent, non-profit institution, which primarily presents outdoor, true-to-scale architectural reconstructions based on archaeological sources. It includes both the archaeological collection displaying the sources of intellectual cultural heritage and the interpretation of the everyday life and activities of past peoples. It is built upon a scientifically based methodology in the interest of educating and entertaining visitors. Besides edifices erected on the basis of archaeological sources, the representation of technology, skills, gastronomy, objects, costumes and everyday life of the given age also assist the operation, practice and events of the museums with the help of experimental archaeology.

Yet this definition is not sufficient to understand the operation and the principle of open-air archaeological museums. It is always important when and for what purpose a museum was established, what developments it has made, how notions like nationalism, nostalgia and romanticism, or an archaeological trend, perhaps an excavation campaign, have affected its foundation; but it is also worth taking into account the cultural characteristics of a country or the features of an age to be presented. A museum with a prehistoric Roman or medieval theme must operate with very different sources and materials. While the absence of written sources and the transience of materials present a problem for the first, the construction and maintenance of Roman stone houses with the original technology is almost impossible. Besides the attitude to authenticity, the ways of communication are also varied. For example, in the UK institutions rarely define themselves as museums. Rather they promote themselves as visitor centres, parks or history villages, despite the fact that they meet all the criteria of an open-air archaeological museum. In Holland and Scandinavia the official notion is characteristic, while in Germany ‘museum’ and ‘park’ are mostly used. As already noted, there is a similar notional chaos in connection with Hungarian archaeological parks. Specialist literature lists different types, for example, traditional museums with glass cabinets, which are based on objects of art. Such is the ArcheoParc Schnals in south Tyrol, Italy, which reflects on the Iceman Ötzi and his way of life with both outdoor and indoor exhibitions. Next to the modern museum building, models of dwellings demonstrate how Neolithic man lived in the Alps.

Problems usually occur from the duality of presentation. Open-air archaeological museums rarely display original objects and visitors can often touch the displayed “demonstrated devices” in the spirit of the five key words – education, experiment, presentation, connection and living history. At the same time, the two ways of presentation may supplement one another, i.e. the original objects of a traditional exhibition and the items that can be touched and tried in reconstructed buildings. There may be anomalies when an open-air archaeological museum stages an indoors exhibition without any special museum experience or concept, often for the opportunity of receiving more moral and financial support as a conventional museum. In Hungary, where archaeological interpretation is regulated by strict professional expectations, the situation is the opposite. In Százhalombatta the exhibition in the town museum supplements and authenticates the hypothetical world of the archaeological park. In the Roman parks of Baláca, Aquincum and Tác the two narratives and ways of presentation are not contradictory – the preserved ruins in situ, the original objects displayed in the exhibitions and the various reconstructed edifices offer a comprehensive experience.

This is often absent in archaeological and historical memorial sites. Visitors are frequently misled, since they are not informed about the reconstructed buildings at the archaeological sites being created with modern technology and often modern materials. However, this is not the case with La Ciutadella Ibérica de Calafell in Catalonia, which opened in 1994. Here visitors can discover what life was like in this area during the Iron Age. This was the first site in Spain where the remains were reconstructed with the methods of experimental archaeology. Hungary also has memorial sites created after archaeological excavations, but with a different content of meaning. The Zalavár Historical Memorial Park and similar establishments opened with tourism in view, rather than as an open-air archaeological museum. Instead of authentic reconstruction of the Carolingian and Árpád periods, the Millennium Monument designed by Imre Makovecz dominates the site. The Ópusztaszer National Historical Heritage Park cannot be included in open-air archaeological parks, yet it is worth mentioning. Its historically oldest part is a ruined medieval monastery where excavations have taken place since 1970 and visitors can still see how archaeologists work. It is surrounded by the nomadic park, the open-air ethnographic museum, yurt-shaped pavilions, the Millennium Árpád Monument and the Rotunda housing the Feszty Cyclorama. The establishment is rather a theme park fusing different elements and symbols of national remembrance than an interpretation of archaeological heritage.

Open-air ethnographic museums represented an important stage preceding archaeological parks. National and local identity play a prominent part in the first stages of both institutions. Exhibitions based on both archaeological and ethnographic material often supplement each other. However, the St. Fagans National History Museum in Wales is the most famous of its kind. It is a member of EXARC and one of the top tourist attractions in the UK. The open-air museum was established in 1946 on the site of an Elizabethan castle and presents the past of Wales with original ethnographic and reconstructed Iron Age buildings, which include dwellings and workshops.

Living history is in focus in the various open-air archae-ological museums. Since their aims always include edu-cation and information, entertainment and tangible his-tory, events in period costumes cannot really be absent. Archaeological parks must keep on reacting to the changes in culture and social structures, and so they are obliged to include innovative and user-friendly methods that have already been tried and tested in other fields of tourism. Can an institution operating on the basis of science genuinely use advertising slogans such as Live Like a Bronze Age Man for a Day! or Take a Prehistoric Dwelling for a Family Holiday!? Can it declare that it provides an authentically reconstructed dwelling for guests when it addresses the needs of people used to comfort, rather than relying on the data of archaeological excavations? The issue concerns how far an institution can go in being visitor friendly and active in the field of marketing in such a way that professionalism would not suffer.