Sweden's Main Contract Archaeology Units To Merge With Main Archaeological Museum

Contract archaeology is the current term for what used to be called rescue archaeology: documenting archaeological sites slated for destruction through land development. (Swedes sometimes fall for a false friend and translate an old word of ours, exploateringsarkeologi, into “exploitation archaeology”, suggesting fieldwork undertaken by people in pimp/ho outfits to the soundtrack from Shaft.)

Swedish contract archaeology has seen steady growth measured decade by decade since the end of WW2, both in terms of the number of active field archaeologists and of the number of units. I seem to remember that there are about 45 units right now, running the organisational gamut from benevolent foundations to government branches to limited companies. The oldest and biggest ones -- known collectively by the beautifully opaque name UV, originally Undersökningsverksamheten, “the Investigation Occupation / Activity / Business” – are part of the National Heritage Board.

Somebody has to keep an eye on these organisations from a quality standpoint, making sure that Joe's Diggin' & Dynamitin' Ltd. doesn't get away with cheap sub-par work while obliterating the archaeology. That somebody has always been the National Heritage Board. This is a problem along the lines of Juvenal's “Who watches the watchmen?”. It's been on the cards for decades that UV will have to be cut off from the Board. The question has been where to put it instead. And now that question has finally been answered.

From 1 January 2015, UV's several regional units will be part of the Swedish History Museum in Stockholm, one of Scandinavia's largest archaeological museums (being somewhat misnamed). For about 150 years, almost every really interesting archaeological find from Sweden has ended up in this museum's stores and display cases. Now a lot of the people who make those finds and document their contexts will be working for the museum.

I think this is excellent. With a few shining counterexamples, Swedish field archaeologists don't know enough about finds. And with a few shining counterexamples, in recent decades the staff of the History Museum have not had much up-to-date fieldwork experience. I am confident that the merging of these two organisations will benefit both and prove a boon to Swedish archaeology.

Thanks to Niklas Ytterberg for the heads-up.

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By Steven Blowney (not verified) on 28 Jun 2013 #permalink