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 Chapter 8: Social Issues and the Field of Archaeological Heritage Preservation Minimize

It is clear even without entering an exhaustive process of analysis that there are a range of value systems involved in the struggle for archaeological sites in Oaxaca. These systems are not necessarily identified with those philosophical values which inspire the academic conservation and restoration movements or the responsibility for transmission of cultural heritage to the future. Rather, the social issues described here show the struggle turns on the conceptualization of archaeological sites as resources, and the right of access to their exploitation in different ways, including tourism, agriculture, real estate, housing, and commerce. Those earlier philosophic values of conservation and restoration are confined to the academic world, and understood by those social groups which surround the sites only with great difficulty. The importance of that vision of the future which formed part of the principles of the golden age of Mexican archaeology evidently has been forgotten.

Data gathered in the course of this research affirm that the level of importance attached to archaeological zones today corresponds most closely to the immediate financial gains they can generate. This attitude has been demonstrated by many sectors, not just the individual who speculates in land, nor of those with authority over land who use their power to decide who gets what. It is also found at the highest levels of the entity with responsibility for conservation, as it must be concerned with near-term gains rather than the long term.

In Mexico the public body with overall policy and coordinating responsibility for culture is the National Council for Culture and the Arts (CENCA). As the most authoritative representative of government policy for culture, CENCA has emphasized an orientation to the globalization process taking place in all areas of national life. As this process assumes as part of its ultimate objective a certain uniformity in Mexico it generates ambiquity and tension. Thus the president of CENCA makes an urgent call for a return to roots, to "recover specific unique elements and affirm differences," to share the development process "without losing that which characterizes and distinguishes us." Nevertheless, he says, when "the defense becomes extreme it can convert itself into a resistance to change and a rejection of that which comes from outside" (Tovar y de Teresa 1994: 12).

This type of contradiction has characterized the neoliberal policies introduced in Mexico by recent administrations. Such policies have thus far failed to develop a coherent response either to cultural diversity or to the tremendous social and economic inequality which marks contemporary Mexico. I am not going to enter into a wide-ranging discussion of national politics. These comments simply place in a broader context the official discourse regarding archaeological heritage conservation, helping us to understand the place conservation occupies in the wider policy arena.

As we have seen across this project, most recently official attention to archaeological heritage in Mexico has consisted of selecting 14 spectacular zones in which to develop projects better understood in terms of scenography than archaeology, and which had as a final goal tourism and other forms of commercial exploitation. Of these projects only one was in Oaxaca, and this was Monte Alban.

In this case it is clear the conservation issue was not seen in its cultural and natural context, as I have tried to describe here. Instead the site was addressed solely in terms of its monumental areas with rapid exploration and massive reconstruction. Equally the project deemed as a fact that archaeological areas are "federal property" without the legal process of purchase or condemnation with compensation that assures for INAH tenure over land within the bounded areas and the right to exploit the subsoil therein.Nevertheless, another federal agency charged with regulating land use, stated and published "the property regime in the area will not be modified" (SEDESOL 1996: 3), that is, that communal and ejido land , as well as private lands contained within the boundary, would continue with the same status and that the boundary-setting exercise contemplated only the regulation of land use.

Unfortunately I have to say this was not the only special project managed with a lack of theoretical, legal, and technical focus on conservation, as this neglect was a constant in the management of projects oriented toward tourism. Within these contradictions in site management there has at no time been credit either for the customary law or the tremendous organizational capacity which social groups, marginal or legitimate, have demonstrated when confronted by government intervention into their affairs.

Mitla is an interesting example in the sense of being considered as an archaeological site "practically lost"—in the words of more than one INAH official—which at the same time represents for the owners of the housing which surrounds the site pieces of land they have "won" despite the presence and opposition of INAH. In the same sense, thorough research on the different social groups with interests in the site in order to do more effective conservation planning—interpreted as "getting yourself in trouble" in the words of the same INAH officials—signifies a fertile research filed in archaeological resource management and practically the only possibility for exploring alternative projects of heritage conservation grounded in community participation and understanding.

Analysis carried out through anthropological research at Mitla and Monte Alban makes it possible to recognize that the operational framework imposed by the structures of power associated with cultural resources management does not coincide with the official discourse in Mexico. Nor is it consistent with the frameworks for cultural resources management in other countries as a contemporary response to possible sustainable use of archaeological heritage. Instead it once again falls into the practice of academic isolation which, as noted at the start of this study, bring more adverse than beneficial consequences at all levels.

Here we see the process of archaeological heritage conservation finds itself immersed in a whirlpool of contradictions stemming from the complexity of social and political interests it touches. It is understood and in general terms accepted that the Mexican national government jealously guards for itself resources highly valued for historic and aesthetic reasons. Nevertheless, this position does not have to be an obstacle to updating approaches to research, conservation, and economic use of archaeological monuments for collective benefit. To accomplish this I propose an approach to archaeological resources management consistent with national realities, including:

  1. involvement of communities and groups with capacities for self-management in the sustainable development of sites, with the benefits and responsibilities this arrangement creates.
  2. assuring professionals in the field be true specialists as defined in the course of this analysis, and not just imports from the discipline of archaeology.
  3. reinforcing the institution charged with administering cultural resources by updating personnel and orienting them toward education at all levels, and by taking care that site exploitation be truly sustainable.

This proposal points in the direction of a new conceptualization of academic and administrative dimensions of site use which stands apart from and as a counterpoint to the traditional academic activities of archaeology.

Approaches to the Concept of Archaeological Resources Management

Administration and management of the political, economic, educational, and tourism dimensions of Mexico's archaeological heritage has developed, as we have seen, more or less simultaneously with archaeological research. This fact has contributed to confusion at all levels about their relationship to the discipline of archaeology. Internationally differentiation exists at the philosophical, theoretical, and operational levels, a differentiation Cleere (1989: 1) suggests first appeared in Sweden in 1666. Today Great Britain, the United States, Denmark, and Canada, along with other countries, have separated the two, using terminology such as Archaeological Heritage Management, Cultural Resources Management, Public Archaeology, and Conservation Archaeology, respectively, to describe a focus on management, use, and conservation of our archaeological heritage.

These concepts have developed from pioneering work in the 1960s and 1970s by authors such as McGimpsey (1972), Lipe and Lindsay (1974) McGimpsey and Davis (1977), King (1977), Schiffer and Gumerman (1977), and Cleere (1984, 1989). These early efforts have been summarized brilliantly by Lipe in his "Value and Meaning in Cultural Resources" (1984). In Great Britain significant early contributions are associated with Thompson (1981), Cleere (1984, 1989), Thapar (1984), Lowenthal (1985), and Darvill (1987).

In Denmark the conservation of archaeological heritage has been a priority for some time, and it is included as a branch of the environmental agency (Fredningstyrelsen) where it is grouped with conservation specialties such as wildlife, landscape, and others which separate conservation planning from "pure" research in archaeology, biology, and other fields (Kristiansen 1984: 21). In Canada Parks Canada at the federal level and counterpart agencies at the provincial level are charged with devloping management programs for archaeological sites. In addition there exists the opportunity for private consultants to compete for projects under guidelines or standards imposed by government (Province of British Columbia 1995: 22).

Management of archaeological sites in the United States at the national level is distributed across several agencies including the National Park Service, Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, Corps of Engineers, and Bureau of Indian Affairs, all of which are required to develop plans and programs for management and protection of the archaeological resources present on the lands under their jurisdiction (Department of the Interior 1989: 11). Other agencies such as the Federal Highway Administration and the Department of Defense support official programs by taking responsibility for making sure their activities do not damage archaeological resources. They may do this by hiring their own archaeologists or by hiring private firms to do archaeological survey and salvage (Department of the Interior 1989). The official managment of these resources does not present an obstacle for state level agencies, Indian tribes, nonprofit organizations, universities, and even private firms to dedicate efforts to cultural resources management and the formation of specialists. Sometimes this fragmentation leads to uncertainty in the public mind as to who should be doing what, or to disagreements among the various institutional actors.

The Spanish model or "Madrid model" also envisions a wider role for the public administration of cultural heritage, including arrangements which locate archaeological heritage in a context of private participation, conservation of collective heritage, and professional preparation of specialists (Vasquez Leon 1996: 75). This model is in fact another example of how the practice of archaeological heritage conservation and a modern context which includes both tourism and other forms of private exploitation of historic and archaeological monuments can be the subject of specific legislation (Garcia Fernandez 1984). And this can happen without a loss of control and leadership by professional archaeologists over decision-making affecting the integrity of collective cultural heritage.

In this respect it appears increasingly clear that INAH in Mexico needs to take the responsibility for integrated management of archaeological heritage through a conscious and systematic preparation of its personnel and modernizing its institutional infrastructure. Without abandoning its fundamental pupose of scientific research in the general fields of anthropology, archaeology, and history, INAH needs to create room for the development of a new discipline addressing issues which up until now have been handled in an improvisational manner as a "complementary" activity or as a secondary concern of archaeology. Recent research on the operations of INAH in the field of archaeology reinforce this proposal (Vasquez Leon 1996: 79), although without clarifying how it might be realized, or the components necessary in the Mexican context. At a more general level, as government archaeologists we continue to claim, as has been shown, the realm of archaeology as ours and continue to proclaim ourselves as specialists in the conservation and management of archaeological heritage without this being the case (Rodriquez Garcia 1996: 153).

The Preparation of Specialists

Academic programs such as those at the University of Nevada at Reno or the University of Victoria in Canada, which offer complete graduate programs in the specialty of Cultural Resources Management, reinforce awareness in those countries about this concern. It is clear the preparation of specialists in the conservation and management of archaeological sites is an urgent necessity in the Mexican context. This is true not only in terms of the academic importance of being current on new areas of research opening up around the world, but because of the tremendous loss of cultural material through the absence of management plans and programs which assure the integrity of archaeological heritage in its natural and cultural setting. As we have seen, the two principal causes of such losses are the overexploitation of archaeological sites through unmanaged mass tourism and land use decisions incompatible with the goal of conservation.

This specialty, which I propose naming Management of Archaeological Resources, should constitute a new profession in Mexico covering the pressing necessities of organizing, planning, researching, and regulating the uses of cultural heritage. Based on Mexico's long history of solid legislation on cultural heritage (Gertz Manero 1976; Bernal 1979; INAH 1980; Litvak 1980; Lombardo 1988), and on the equally long experience developed in the field of conservation and restoration, this specialty would have its own focus. This would be defined in part by the search for feasible planning solutions to the interaction of social actors and groups competing for access to archaeological resources. In this sense the broadest configuration of the new specialty would share the general format suggested by Cleere (1989), which includes four basic elements:

  1. An emphasis on methods and techniques to optimize the results of salvage archaeology, as the modern world increasingly obliges us to deal with fragmented sites in danger of disappearing. Governments are less and less willing to finance "pure" research projects, and institutions responsible for development infratructure feel obligated to pay for only that research which clears the area affected by their own projects (e.g., electricity transmission lines, pipelines, highways, or irrigation projects).
  2. Training in land use planning, with the ultimate objective that all infrastructure projects be subject to review by people properly trained to mitigate to the maximum the impact of modern development on archaeological sites. Archaeologists, just like other professionals involved in preservation, ought to understand the planning strategies for different land uses in different parts of the country.
  3. An understanding of institutional context, as a challenge for this specialty will be to accomplish effective interactions and common policies which benefit the activities and interests of all. One of the most important elements for a resources management specialist (natural or cultural) is to understand both the internal organization of institutions which affect the subject area, and the web of external relations which create its environment. In this sense, as we have seen in the cases summarized here, it is critical to change the tendency to leave to political appointees the management of policies which affect archaeological heritage. In the same sense it is urgent to train specialists able to design and manage the implementation of these policies.
  4. The importance of constant updating of knowledge related to techniques and ethics of conservation, of the philosophies governing criteria to be applied in each case, and a commitment to participation in international meetings on this subject, interchanging ideas with colleagues confronting similar problems (Cleere 1989: 12-13).

However, this does not imply simply copying the systems of advanced countries and transferring them to Mexico, a practice which in other fields has proven to be clearly damaging. Nor does it mean that those who have not studied this specialty in the first world are out of context, as Cleere has suggested (Cleere 1989: 15). In any case it means trying to take advantage of those elements which will be useful in dealing with the specific issues found at the local, state, and national levels, as we have seen through-out this study. And it means trying to adapt those elements most useful to dealing with the issues we face at the national, state, and local levels, such as those addressed in the course of this study.

In this respect I find myself in agreement with the position taken by authors from developing countries such as Raj Isar (1986), who recognize our countries are in the process of developing a real ethic of cultural heritage conservation while caught up in policies which openly favor interests which consider economic development as an ultimate objective (Raj Isar 1986: 27). From our position of marginality in the world system, only by using and reclaiming our heritage can we hope to aspire to a better future. Using materials and experience available in our immediate surroundings may offer practical, more economic solutions to problems than attempting to import them from other contexts. For example, this means giving greater attention to community participation in the processes of destruction and conservation of archaeological heritage, and in the organizational capacity demonstrated by community social actors. Both of these merit much more professional attention than current practice accepts.

Community Participation (the Site-Society Interface)

In the academic environment surrounding cultural heritage in Mexico there have not been, until now, empirical studies which give real meaning to what has been called "society", "community", or "social actors". Instead these terms have been used to create theoretical formulations which, while given nominal recognition and endorsement, have little identifiable content (Schavelzon 1990; Garcia Canclini 1992; Florescano 1993). Here their character is subject to empirical definition and application in projects and programs of archaeological heritage conservation. They become central to our understanding of the ways in which different segments of society take part in the destruction, or conservation, of archaeological resources, and we can see their utility in the analysis of case materials from Monte Alban and Mitla.

Obviously here I have not exhausted different approaches to the social complexities confronting the archaeological zones which are the subject of this study. I recognize as well my limitations in terms of identifying and interpreting the meanings each social actor attaches to cultural resources. Undoubtedly this stems from the fact that meanings of objects and events are determined by cultural conventions (Layton 1989), and these are difficult to capture without adequate preparation in various specialties of anthropology. Nevertheless, understanding the value society attaches to what archaeologists study and its level of participation in these studies merits systematic research. Equally, we need a better, more systematic understanding of the causes, processes, and consequences of patterns of resistance to government programs of heritage conservation.

Here I call attention to the existence of specific social actors and to the structure of group organization which affects the process of destruction or conservation of archaeological heritage. These actors and organizations, as we have seen, respond first of all to their economic condition and social situation. In both sites we find their immediate surroundings are marginal areas in the national sense, just as the nation is to some extent marginal by being part of the Third World. In this regard this study represents merely an initial approach to the complexities outlined thus far. For example, a priority for research and analysis should be the views of "the others", i.e., precisely those actors and organizations referred to above, for a more complete understanding of the meanings they attach to heritage conservation and the programs which promote it. This in turn suggests the need to conduct anthropological and sociological research in concert with archaeological research, planning and conservation, assessments of site use, interpretation, and restoration of archaeological heritage.

This research focus I suggest be called the Site-Society Interface, the place and circumstances where the need to conserve archaeological heritage (with all that it implies in terms of programs and policies) interacts with contemporary society, organized in a specific fashion, in accordance with the social and economic realities of its environment. In this respect Robles and Corbett have called attention to the urgent need to integrate social research with the process of archaeological preservation in Mexico (Robles and Corbett 1994, 1995). This proposal implies giving considerable weight to anthropological research as a key phase in the analysis of cultural heritage prior to proposals and plans which affect it or institutional programs to protect it. In essence the argument is that only through prior understanding of social actors and their organization will we be in a position to interact with them to propose archaeological heritage conservation projects which have some prospect for realization. The Site-Society Interface, then, is the time and circumstances where one sees the interaction between social components in their broadest sense with the thinking and practice driving the process of archaeological heritage conservation.

This concept appears crucial in understanding the realities associated with conflict over archaeological resources and therefore with the design of effective projects and programs for the conservation of same. In a more general sense it guides us toward new fields of research and thinking compatible with contemporary frameworks for archaeological heritage conservation. It also suggests some utility in examining the experience of natural resource conservation issues. These share with cultural resources the characteristic of being, first of all, economically exploitable resources within the modern global framework.

One example with interesting parallels to this study in Oaxaca is Peluso's work on forest resources in Java, where both the customary users and the government have constructed ideologies which justify their access to the forest (Peluso 1992: 6), resulting in constant confrontations with those actors considered "illegal" by the others. All parties have rational explanations as to why their interpretation of access rights is morally correct and defensible, and why the claims of others are without justification. Situations like these direct us to the more general discussion of access to common resources (Hardin 1968; McCay and Anderson 1987; Ostrom 1990; Ross and Saunders 1991; Peters 1994). Here the focus should be on understanding the nature of the specific problems associated with economic and social exploitation of the resources in their contemporary context, and by extension trying to develop responses and solutions which bring into play community participation, knowledge, organization, and interests.

In recent decades efforts of this type have been made in Mexico in the field of environmental conservation, a specialty which has shifted from being a collection of "pure" sciences to an interdisciplinary activity highly politicized and participatory in nature (Gomez-Pompa 1982, 1987, 1990); del Amo (1986, 1988); Toledo (1988); and Leff (1990), among others, have made clear the validity of including studies of values and traditional techniques in the most recent proposals for conservation alternatives and sustainable natural resource management. At the international level, without a doubt the forefront of academic research on the subject centers primarily on the management of protected areas in forests and tropical jungles. Such research directs our attention to issues of development affecting various dimensions of life in traditional communities (Posey et al, 1984; Anderson 1990; Croll and Parkin 1992; Peluso 1992; Schelhas 1994).

On the other hand, the great common challenge confronting natural and cultural resources is without a doubt the impact of tourism which affects them both. Here it is not a question as to whether tourism should or should not be present in the process of making use of cultural resources, as this is now a given fact, and its presence is a result of a global development process in which we all participate. The goal is to work on the design of strategies which permit a sustainable use of archaeological resources, resources which should, without a doubt, be characterized as non-renewable.

Within the framework of the new professional specialization proposed here research on sustainable tourism becomes a priority, hardly a novel idea as in the last decade a number of authors have reached the same conclusion (Crick 1989; Smith and Eadington 1992; Nelson, Butler, and Wall 1993; Coccossis and Nijkamp 1995; Wight 1995). In effect these authors participate in a search for strategies for tourism management with a style and on a scale assuring it remains viable for an extended period without degrading or altering the environment (Butler 1993: 29). In the specific relationship between cultural heritage and tourism research focuses on true participation by communities in processes of rational exploitation through different types of tourism (Hussey 1989; van den Berghe 1995). True participation avoids transformation of the community into a staging area or arena controlled by and for the benefit of outside interests, and assures that there is a positive relationship between the nature of tourism and the community's everyday life (Herzfeld 1991).

In the end we confront (A) an academic panorama sufficiently rich to nurture the theoretical work necessary to sustain the best possible management of archaeological resources in Mexico, and (B) a lengthy practical experience in the process of exploiting and conserving the same. Combining the two with sufficient political commitment will leave us on the threshold of a better future for our cultural heritage.