How does new legislation change the situation and potential of archaeological explorations?

MúzeumCafé 19.

Paula Zsidi Archaeologist, deputy director of the Budapest History Museum: Law 2010/LXIX on the protection of cultural heritage modifying Law 2001/LXIV came into force on 1 August. The situation induced by a regulation modification in 2007 was characterised as a burst in the damn in a 2008 study discussing the role of archaeology in the 21st century. The authors who with elementary force backed the necessity of setting up the National Office of Field Service hit the nail on the head with the comparison this time with regard to a burst in the dam. We are aware that such a burst is of elementary force, but at the same time is something unregulated and destructive. A damn burst also calls attention to a system’s weak points. There is need for coordination, a uniform information and documentation system, and a necessity to establish access and widespread publicity employing identical principles. What does the present modification of the law mean in terms of the above? It means that the river has retreated to its bed, i.e. the situation has been clarified in terms of archaeology’s tasks.

Piroska Biczó Archaeologist, Hungarian National Museum: The know-how already existing in museums was thrown out of the window, since museums by then were well used to excavations and to organising activities involving large investments. Although it is not yet clear how future contracts will be concluded, noting the coordinating role of the National Museum in the draft resolution the investors presumably would not have to negotiate with each museum in the case of sites in several counties. In order to avoid the accusations made previously against museums, detailed accounting should be included in the contracts (for example, not paying for a museum’s electricity bills from excavation finances). In archaeology excavations are regarded as basic research, therefore their standard greatly determines the quality of processing. There is no uniform European protocol or regulations, moreover legislation with regard to rescuing and documenting archaeological heritage may differ from region to region, even in the same country. An excavation is followed by the restoration, documentation, scientific processing and publishing of the finds, as well as their presentation to the public. The modifications in the legislation provide greater opportunities for museums as compared to the past, and the National Museum as a coordinator must assist this goal.

Eszter Bánffy Professor of archaeology, Deputy Director of the Institute of Archaeology, Hungarian Academy of Sciences: I must remark that what I miss in the draft is a broad and uniform interpretation of heritage protection in Hungary. I am thinking we missed a complete review of the Law on Heritage Protection adopted in 2001. A few of my proposals in connection with the question raised: 1. Archaeological diagnostics preceding any excavation should be compulsory before every exploration. 2. “The county museum network is prepared to undertake the archaeological tasks” (quote from the draft law). No data support the above. It should be defined what conditions have to exist in order to qualify a county museum as being prepared to conduct an archaeological task preceding a large investment. 3. No one can predict what kind and how much work has to be done at a site in order to excavate it. The difference between comparing two sites can be hundred or a thousand fold. The law should rather stipulate that an estimate indicating a margin of error has to be provided. 4. “The countervalue of costs for storage is due to the museum receiving the finds. This equals ten per cent of the net amount of the excavation budget.” It should be specified in another way. Both the quantity of finds and long-term storage with maintenance require different amounts. It can happen that only a few hair-rings and dish fragments are found at a site – in that case 10 per cent is an excessive sum whereas in other instances it can be too little.

Tibor Paluch Archaeologist, Móra Ferenc Museum, Szeged: Large investments starting in the 1980s experienced a huge impetus during the following decade. The museum network of Csongrád County was among the first to be involved with the archaeological activities connected to the M5 Motorway in 1991. The wave of setting up regional offices by KÖSZ reached the Southern Great Plain region at the end of 2008. From the end of 2009 demands for the transformation of KÖSZ were stressed, becoming explicit after the March 2010 conference about archaeological heritage protection and the role museums play in the field. The speed of changes, however, has accelerated surprisingly. This was not unexpected by museums, but they were still unprepared for the changes. Only two months have gone by since the modifications came into effect. Most important is that the constant changes affecting archaeology in recent years would come to a halt, since professional work primarily requires a calm, secure and calculable basis. I think the biggest task for the following years will be to establish that.