Managing the Past in the Present

Julia L. J. Sanchez (UCLA) and Richard M. Leventhal (UCLA)



In the United States, although the initials CRM mean 'cultural resource management, more often than not, CRM refers to contract archaeology.  Rather than taking a central role in archaeology, within most academic environments, CRM is used to refer to work done by contract firms, mainly salvage archaeology that takes place prior to construction work.  However, the concept of 'cultural resource management' needs to be redefined in the US and should not be within current archaeological practices nor within academic institutions where archaeologists are trained.

Archaeologists should be managers of cultural resources, not just the excavators of sites.  Archaeologists should extend their work to include the conservation and preservation of archaeological artifacts and ancient sites, and should integrate these sites, these artifacts, and even their interpretation of the past into the modern-day local communities and world at-large.  Our responsibilities don't end after we're done excavating; we need to be involved in the management and preservation of archaeological sites and artifacts.  If archaeologists do not take on this role, we abandon it to others and we cannot complain about the modern-day representations of the archaeology, archaeological work, and ancient civilizations.

If archaeologists are unhappy with the destruction of archaeological sites, either through slow deterioration, looting, or construction projects, we should recognize that we are partly to blame.  We are the ones who understand the sites and what is needed, and we are the ones who must take responsibility for their conservation and preservation.  And most importantly, we are the ones who must explain and emphasize the importance of these artifacts and sites to the modern day communities and governments who control these things.

Archaeologists often bemoan the representation of archaeology in popular culture.  In the eyes of the world, we are treasure hunters searching for exotic golden idols, adventurers fighting Nazis, or superheroes battling mystical supernatural forces.  Even educational specials on archaeology use words like "mysterious" to describe archaeology and ancient cultures.  One would think that the complete name of the ancient Maya was actually the "Mysterious Maya." One can find more books and videos with titles such as:

The Mysterious Maya

The Mysterious Collapse of the Ancient Maya

A Mystery within the Jungle

The Hidden Mysteries of the a Lost Civilization

Archaeologists cannot complain about the way they are represented in popular culture. Archaeologists have abandoned that definitional role to others.  Because we are not creating our own image, others are creating it for us, and we are seen as object driven in such television shows as Relic Hunter where Tia Carrera is presented as the swashbuckling archaeologist/professor or CD games where the buxom, virtual archaeologist, Lara Croft leads the charge in Tomb Raiders.

Academic training of archaeologists

The blame for these representational problems and for the lack of true 'cultural resource management among archaeologists working throughout the world must be laid at our own doorstep. Much of the problem comes from the way in which archaeologists in the U.S. are trained.  Academic programs in archaeology or anthropology emphasize field research, data collection, and academic publications over teaching, popular publications, and community outreach.  In addition, the conservation and protection of archaeological sites in the long-term are not valued goals in the academic culture of this country. Instead, students being trained in archaeology are encouraged to excavate new sites and create 'original' data, which are then interpreted and presented within the scholarly community.  Activities such as site preservation and community outreach are generally discouraged and are perceived to be touchy-feely in nature.  The result is that archaeologists encourage the excavation of more and more sites, and discourage the important issues of conservation and preservation and of community outreach throughout the world.

Of the top ten archaeology graduate programs in the U.S., few offer courses related to public archaeology.  Three offer public archaeology classes, but they are special topics courses which may never be taught again.  Two offer courses in CRM; eight offer courses in museum studies; one in public policy. None of these courses are required. None of these top-ten universities offer courses or programs related to the direct preservation and conservation of archaeological sites, ancient buildings, or ancient artifacts.

When looking for positions in archaeology/anthropology, new graduates find that academic publications, read by at most 30 specialists, are valued, while popular articles that discuss new ideas and finds as well as community outreach are considered a waste of time.

Often, the material used in television specials, movies, magazines, and textbooks relies on archaeological data that are decades out of date. Archaeologists have abandoned the representation of their research to screen-writers, novelists, or even-worse, to people promoting various bizarre theories of alien influence.  Archaeologists like Brian Fagan, who popularize archaeology and bring current information to large groups of people through popular books, textbooks or other media, are often not considered 'real' archaeologists because they are not excavating sites.  This is an unfortunate view for it is Brian Fagan who has brought archaeology to thousands of people, sparked their interest, educated people about current issues, and has probably promoted interest which has resulted in increased funding for archaeology by foundations and private donors.

Most archaeologists are not interested in presenting their results to the community, or involving the community in their project.  Most of the research is designed and the results interpreted by faculty and graduate students.  Local communities or undergraduate students may be involved in excavation, but they are usually treated as organized labor and are not included in the intellectual process.  This practice represents a missed opportunity to include other voices in analysis, and ignores the chance to show larger groups of people what archaeology is really like.

Our goal with this paper is not to complain about these issues. Rather, we are interested in demonstrating how new programs within the academic training of archaeologists can result in new practices that broaden the scope of archaeology and can create effective cultural resource managers. These archaeologists of the future can actively represent archaeology and immerse themselves in long-term projects to produce the long-term preservation and conservation of archaeological sites and ancient artifacts.

The Training of Archaeologists

UCLA is developing a new program to meet some of these goals.  One of our models for archaeological training comes from The Institute of Archaeology at the University College, London. This Institute at UCL offers a wide range of advanced degrees in public archaeology, cultural heritage and archaeological heritage management, and conservation, as well as various degrees in research archaeology. We strongly believe that these programs demonstrate a successful awareness of the role of archaeology in the modern world of England.

In the United States, Boston University has one of the few stand-alone Departments of Archaeology.  In addition to required courses on archaeological ethics and the law, BU offers courses and an M.A. degree in heritage management.

Another program in the United States that we applaud is found at Indiana University.  They have a new Ph.D. program entitled "Archaeology and Social Context."  Their web site describes the program as:

"bridging the sub-fields of Social/Cultural Anthropology and Archaeology to address archaeological issues as they apply to contemporary peoples. Students pursuing this track are expected to follow a course of study that will provide them with a general background in the discipline of anthropology, a broad knowledge of the fields of Social/Cultural Anthropology and archaeology, including theoretical issues and field/laboratory methods.  Students will be expected to develop individualized interest areas that may include, but are not limited to, cultural property, public archaeology, archaeological ethics, heritage management and repatriation."

Requirements include:  Archaeological ethics; archaeology and social context. 


New Programs at UCLA

A new program in archaeological and ethnographic conservation is in the final states of development between The Cotsen Institute of Archaeology at UCLA and the J. Paul Getty Trust.  This new program will be the only one in the United States to train conservators who are and will be focused on the conservation and preservation of archaeological and ethnographic materials. This is a true collaborative effort between the Getty and UCLA and will incorporate the resources at the Cotsen Institute of Archaeology at UCLA, with the conservation resources of the J. Paul Getty Museum and the Getty Conservation Institute.

This new UCLA-Getty MA program in conservation is located within the Cotsen Institute at UCLA where archaeologists are also being trained. Although the archaeologists and conservators will be trained along separate academic tracks, many introductory courses during the first year will be required for both archaeology and conservation students.

In the end, we hope that we will be training a new breed of archaeologists who are more aware of and interested in the preservation and conservation of archaeological sites and ancient artifacts and who are real partners in the cultural resource management of our ancient past. In addition, we hope that the new breed of conservators coming from this program will be more aware of the archaeological needs and realities of working in the field under oftentimes difficult conditions.

This program will begin in 2-3 more years. We are in the process of hiring a faculty member who will be the Director of the program. This Director will be in charge of hiring two more faculty members and will be responsible for the final stages of planning and implementation as we move towards accepting the first class of students in the fall of 2002 or 2003.

The primary focus of this new conservation MA will be on the conservation and preservation of archaeological and ethnographic objects. However, we see, in the not too distant future, the expansion of this program into the critical areas of site management. Basic classes in site management are already included within this new MA program but it will not be a primary academic track until the program proves itself to be a success and expansion is possible.

One can only hope that graduates of these programs will find prosperous careers waiting for them when they graduate.

Educational/Community Outreach

In addition to training archaeologists, many universities and colleges have K-12 educational outreach programs or volunteer programs to educate the public about archaeology.  Although not always formalized, efforts to reach out to the community are valuable for education and for funding and preservation of archaeological sites. Such programs need to be re-evaluated in the academic community.  They are not things to be done in one's spare time that don't count in tenure review; they are essential parts of the process of interpreting the past and being academics within the educational system of the United States.

The Xunantunich Archaeological Project

Archaeologists can change the field by exemplifying these goals; supporting cultural resource management, public education programs, and conservation strategies that are incorporated into research projects.  An example of such a project is at the ancient Maya city of Xunantunich located within the territory of the modern country of Belize, was conducted from 1991 to 1998 in a program of research and development. This project was a cooperative program with UCLA, the University of Pennsylvania and the Government of Belize all playing a critical role.

The examination of Xunantunich was initiated by a request from the Department of Archaeology in Belize to Richard Leventhal to initially assess and then to direct a major research and tourist development project. Wendy Ashmore from the University of Pennsylvania joined the project in 1992 to direct the settlement study. There is not enough time in this short paper to even mention the many research programs and discoveries at this ancient site.

What we do want to talk about is the nature of the development that was focused upon Xunantunich.  Xunantunich has been a tourist destination within the Belize for more than 50 years. The site has seen sporadic archaeological research and consolidation during that half century - but there was never an integrated archaeological and development program or plan until the initiation of our project at Xunantunich in 1991. In 1991, the primary goal of the Government of Belize was to increase tourism to the site. Too many tourists were using Belize purely as a transit point from Mexico to Tikal or vise-versa. In 1991, approximately 12,000 tourists visited Xunantunich on an annual basis. Today, that number has more than doubled and the time spent at Xunantunich has dramatically increased.

Our work at the site during the 8 years of work attempted to incorporate the community into the archaeology work, attempted to educate local archaeologists about conservation issues, and attempted to conduct research at the site while at the same time conserve the site and create a broad infrastructure for tourists needs. The tourist needs were met with the construction of two site interpretive centers, two sitting-picnic areas, two storage buildings, a new parking area and entrance to the site, and the construction of two small vendors buildings.

The involvement of the community included discussions with both the Government of Belize and the local Maya community of San Jose de Succotz in trying to understand the value and significance of the site to the local and national constiuancies. Not all of the interaction with either the Government nor with the local community were always easy or fulfilling. Oftentimes, the discussions were contentious and difficult, especially as we attempted to relate to the interests and needs of both the National government and the local communities. Politics continued to play a critical but often difficult and confrontational role within the work and the hiring of individuals to work on the project.

We believe that the greatest successes could be found with our involvement with the local schools - both primary and secondary levels. Groups of students were brought to Xunantunich for a tour of the work. In addition, archaeologists went into the schools to discuss the work and the connection of our study of the Maya past with the modern day Maya of these communities. Tour guides were annually given a full day tour of the progress and developments at the site. Near the end of the project, a full three day certificate course on the site and on our new interpretations was presented. All the tour guides passed the course but more importantly, they began to include the new vision and interpretation of Xunantunich in their tours for foreign tourists. Finally, local and national governmental leaders were invited to the site each year for a tour and discussion of our work and plans.

The incorporation of the local or national community into the archaeological work is never an easy process. More conflicts, concerns and discussions are always necessary with such a development. However, this type of incorporation and discussion provided for a greater understanding on both sides of the discussion. We as archaeologists developed a greater understanding of the importance of this site to the local community and to the larger community of Belize. At the same time, we believe that the Belize communities had a greater understanding of the difficulties of excavating and conserving a site like Xunantunich for the future.