New changes in the system of Hungarian heritage protection

At the end of October, the Hungarian government initiated the overhaul of sectoral legislation on Hungary’s archaeological heritage protection (Act LXIV of 2001). Organisational and personnel changes introduced last year and this year in heritage protection – an area supervised by the Prime Minister’s Office since 1914 – have resulted in a new approach. Carrying out archaeological excavations has become a public function of the state, successfully resolving long years of conflict and debate that emerged through the process of privatising archaeological tasks in recent years. After the amendment takes effect, private companies may no longer perform archaeological activities. It is also stipulated that conducting archaeological excavations is first and foremost the task of museums with their scope of collection extending to archaeology, as stated in their founding deeds. These state and municipal institutions will now be entitled to carry out not only preventative archaeological excavations but also those linked to large-scale development projects and they can outsource tasks beyond their capacity exclusively to state and municipal institutions with an excavation licence. This has brought another decade-long dispute to a close as several attempts had been made since 2007 to curtail and infringe upon the right of museums to perform archaeological excavations, causing severe damage to Hungary’s archaeological heritage.

Having adequate capacity has always been key to carrying out archaeological tasks. To this effect, the legislator states that in the event of a shortage in capacity only the services of institutions with an excavation licence may be enlisted, and with this the practice of previous decades has been restored. Another welcome change is the extended scope of the Hungarian National Museum’s archaeological tasks. Investors in large-scale development projects seeking a contract for archaeological work will have to turn to the National Museum, which, within five days, will inform them about the institution entitled to perform the preventative excavations and coordinate the contracting process. Preventative excavations linked to large-scale development projects may only be carried out by town museums with county rights and a relevant area of collection – such institution in Budapest being the Budapest History Museum – while local museums with a relevant area of collection must be involved in the process to the extent of their available capacity. If a shortage in capacity persists, the only other institutions that may be contracted are those entitled to carry out excavations.

Hence, the decision of the Prime Minister’s Office to discontinue the institutional system of archaeological accreditation is understandable. The legislator asserts that in the past the accreditation of those entitled to excavations did not in itself encourage museum maintainers to significantly increase the capacities of their institutions, and the accreditation of companies will no longer be necessary since they cannot perform archaeological activities after the amendment becomes effective.