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CRM at the World Archaeological Conference, Number 4

Tom Wheaton

Since its first meeting in Southampton in 1986, the World Archaeological Conference (WAC) has held major conferences every four years as well as numerous regional interconferences. Many SAA members no doubt attended the last meeting in New Delhi in 1994. The next conference, WAC4, will be held at the University of Capetown, South Africa, on January 10-14, 1999.

While the members of WAC study the past, they have their feet firmly planted in the global politics of the present. WAC was founded, in part, to express opposition to apartheid. As such, it seems appropriate for the next WAC meeting to be held in the "new" South Africa, a sort of archaeological "coming-out party." As Martin Hall, the conference organizer, states in his welcoming message about South Africa and the conference, "Much remains inequitable, but we are now able to tackle racism, poverty, ignorance, and prejudice from within a legitimate society." To further enhance this new image, President Nelson Mandela is the patron of the conference. This is clearly an exciting time to be in South Africa and the conference should reflect that excitement.

The conference will have over 1,000 attendees from 50 different countries. Virtually all papers will be delivered in English, and 75 percent of presenters will be from English-speaking countries. While this should make it easy for Americans to attend, it does show a decided bias which, hopefully, will be corrected in the future.

The organization of the conference is unusual and should be stimulating--papers will be posted on the Internet several months before the conference, sessions will discuss the papers at the conference, and daily workshops will be held on overriding themes. There also is a wide range of topics for discussion. Among these, African-American archaeology and cultural resource management may be of particular interest to American archaeologists. For more information on the conference, visit

Cultural resource management has clearly had a great impact on archaeology in North America since the National Historic Preservation Act of 1968 and Executive Order 11593 in the early 1970s. CRM archaeology has given significant impetus to new research topics, such as African-American and urban archaeology. It has developed new approaches and methods and has, in effect, taken archaeology out of the ivory tower. The road has been, and continues to be, bumpy, but CRM is here to stay. Under various names, it is beginning to do the same thing in the international arena.

As a measure of its growing influence, WAC4 will devote several sessions to CRM. In keeping with other archaeological forums, sessions will range in complexity from site or project reports to broader issues of theory and project research potential, and from technical issues about standards and techniques of resource preservation to cross-cultural questions about how to deal with the sociopolitical aspects of CRM.

I was asked to give a workshop on the practical aspects of CRM. As the idea for the workshop progressed, the WAC4 organizers, recognizing the increasing volume of CRM-related work on an international scale, decided they would really prefer a series of workshops on CRM and wanted help in developing a CRM "thread" for the conference. With Kate Clark (United Kingdom) and Melanie Atwell (Zambia), we are trying to integrate a series of workshops into a cohesive whole. Our role is still somewhat vague but this has been the source of spirited interactions among members of our steering committee from Botswana, Great Britain, Kenya, New Zealand, South Africa, Sri Lanka, United States, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.

For some, this dialogue has demonstrated a need and desire for the development of practical approaches to common CRM problems. Others feel that the practical issues of preserving and managing resources are minimally important and that developing archaeological theory through the use of CRM projects for research should be a primary goal. Not surprisingly, advocates of practical matters tend to be resource managers and private consultants with day-to-day responsibility for balancing economic, political, and social issues, while those emphasizing theory are academically oriented. Whatever the orientation, the legacy of colonialism, the newness of "managing" resources within various legal systems, the chronic lack of adequate funding, and lack of enforcement of World Bank and other regulations, cultural and linguistic differences (even the difference between American and British English) are manifest in miscommunication and mistrust about standards, guidelines, and motives.

It is easy to draw parallels between U.S. institutions and the international scene: The International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) and its committees can be seen as an analog for the Advisory Council and Department of Interior; the various national programs taking the SHPO role; and the World Bank as federal funding and enforcement authority. In reality, the complexities and differences on the international stage are of another order altogether. However, the multifaceted nature of the U.S. CRM system and its ability to adapt to regional and local concerns in the 50 states and territories, and its track record of 30 years' experience with CRM issues, do provide a laboratory that the rest of the world can learn from and use to avoid making the same mistakes. Our experience should provide choices and suggest courses of action that others can accept, reject, or modify.

In a review of a one-week workshop for West African museologists and archaeologists in Abidjan, Ann Stahl raised many of these issues and stated, "A common litany of concerns emerges: inadequate training and resources; the low priority of museums and archaeological research on national agendas . . ." She goes on, "A common theme is the inadequacy of a law-based approach to heritage issues that fails to communicate the importance of archaeological heritage to a broad local constituency in accessible terms and languages" (A. Stahl, 1998, Review of Museums and Archaeology in West Africa, by C. D. Ardouin. American Antiquity 63:515-516).

Despite what some of our panelists feel, Stahl shows that there are indeed some practical issues that CRM must address everywhere. How these issues are addressed and prioritized are, of course, greatly dependent on the culture, politics, economy, and geography of the country in question. The need for standards and standardization is one such issue. Other issues of concern are:

  • the role and interplay of various sectors in CRM (academic, governmental, nongovernmental organizations [NGOs], even private firms, although the latter is more of a U.S. concept);

  • how to finance the work (international development banks, multinational engineering or construction firms, national governments);

  • enforcement of international treaties and national laws and regulations;

  • the role of international organizations (ICOMOS, WAC, World Bank, UNESCO);

  • how to disseminate the information and preserve it for future generations;

  • staffing and student preparation;

  • international cooperation; and

  • how to involve the local population in the decision-making process at some level.
  • One of the concluding CRM workshops at WAC4 will be devoted to organizing an international network of CRM practioners. Part of this effort will most likely involve the organization of an international Internet mailing list to carry the discussions beyond WAC4, maintain contacts and friendships, and provide a resource base for mutual support of CRM practitioners and other interested parties.

    Tom Wheaton is vice president of New South Associates, Inc., a CRM consulting firm in Stone Mountain, Georgia.

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