Previous pageTable of ContentsNext Page

Insights -

The Many Faces

of CRM

CRM at the Fourth
World Archaeological Conference,
An Update

Tom Wheaton

The World Archaeological Conference (WAC) in Cape Town in January was by all accounts a resounding success. The site of the University of Cape Town was delightful, the conference was well-organized and run, the social activities plentiful and interesting, and the people helpful and friendly. Everyone who attended came home invigorated and excited after a week of exchanging ideas and experiences with other archaeologists from around the world.

As noted in the November issue of the SAA Bulletin [1998, 16(5):28], cultural resource management (CRM) was an important topic at the conference. This was especially clear at the workshop, "What is CRM?", organized by Janette Deacon and Melanie Atwell (South Africa), Kate Clark (United Kingdom), and Tom Wheaton (United States). Interest in the workshop exceeded expectations and attendance was standing-room only with people peering in through the open doorway. Attendees included individuals from universities, museums, national governmental agencies, and employees from American CRM firms. The attendees were primarily from Africa, Europe, and the United States.

The workshop was organized around three topics, each of which was introduced by one of the organizers: (1) Why we do CRM archaeology (Deacon); (2) The seven deadly sins of CRM archaeology (Clark); and (3) The 10 commandments of CRM archaeology (Atwell and Wheaton). A panel of archaeologists, which included Webber Ndoro (Zimbabwe), John Carman (U.K.), Sharla Azizi (U.S.), Gamini Wijesuriya (Sri Lanka), Tom Huffman (South Africa), and Alinah Segobye (Botswana), then began a discussion of each topic. Initially, the audience seemed unsure of what to expect or whether to participate in the discussion, but the panelists' enthusiasm soon produced a lively discussion. Nearly everyone in the room recounted personal experiences, asked questions, and bragged good-naturedly about their country's programs. The discussion was surprisingly candid as the participants readily admitted deficiencies in their programs and sought advice from others. The key to this openness was the geographical and cultural breadth of the panelists and their willingness to discuss problems and issues in a public forum.

Deacon provided a good overview of the reasons why we practice CRM. By audience consensus, the reasons were conservation of the resource, research, establishment of resource inventories, development of culture history, public education, and promotion of national unification. Deacon also pointed out that archaeology is only one aspect of the cultural resource puzzle, and that we should not forget history, architecture, and traditional cultural properties.

Clark's amusing (she is a fine cartoonist) and eminently practical take on the seven deadly sins of doing CRM archaeology did not hide her frustration with the pompous and bureaucratic. According to Clark, the "sins" include

(1) Overdoing objectivity -- pretending we know nothing of the resource and reinventing our approaches for each project;

(2) Obfuscation of our reports -- recommendations laden with jargon and generally poor writing;

(3) Visual illiteracy -- overuse of graphics that look pretty but don't mean anything;

(4) Myopia -- not looking beyond the archaeological report to the system (economic, political, social, etc.) of which it is a part;

(5) Ignorance -- archaeologists pretending to be soil scientists, historians, and architects, etc.;

(6) Arrogance -- ignoring and actively disdaining public interest and input; and

(7) Pessimism -- throwing up our hands and bemoaning the sad state of affairs instead of working on solving problems.

Atwell presented some of the primary responsibilities or "commandments" for CRM practitioners. Chief among these commandments was the need to seek a wider social relevance to what we do. He implored the audience to communicate better with the public and to clearly express how our jobs add value to people's lives in concrete ways. To accomplish this task, CRM must provide a contextual analysis within social, landscape, planning, development, and economic frameworks. These ideas were amplified in a discussion in which commandments were elicited from the larger audience. Although the audience's commandments for CRM practitioners ranged from simple to complex, and national to universal, the following representative list gives a sense of the positions on the international scene:

Thou shalt not lie about resources in reports.

Thou shalt remember the economics of the situation (archaeology is not the only consideration when dealing with limited development budgets).

Thou shalt focus on one project at a time and not spread thine resources too thinly.

Thou shalt meet deadlines.

Thou shalt work with other professions as a team and with mutual respect.

Thou shalt finish what thou startest.

Thou shalt decide together with the public what is significant.

Thou shalt not forget that archaeology is exciting.

Thou shalt know the laws.

Thou shalt create a climate for enforcement of ethical conduct.

Thou shalt keep an open mind and continue learning.

The general discussions also were revealing and showed the growing importance of CRM nearly everywhere. While the United States sometimes thinks of itself as the inventor of CRM, other countries have certainly moved ahead of us in certain respects. Kenya's system of cultural resource management institutionalizes public involvement perhaps better than we do. Australia allows more say in the management of the resource by aboriginal peoples than is generally the case with Native Americans, although the recent changes in the Section 106 regulations are moving in that direction. Sri Lanka has a license for archaeologists similar to that for architects or doctors that exceeds our efforts with SOPA/RPA. Nearly every country in Africa has the legal framework to deal with cultural resources and has qualified people interested in managing the resource for the public good. But in most countries, the major issue is funding the enforcement of these regulations.

Few countries have a private sector devoted to addressing cultural resource problems (Australia is a major exception). Even Europe is only beginning to address the issue of compliance with new regulations in the European community and whether a reliance on private industry is the appropriate avenue. As CRM shifts from government control to private industry, the old arguments that private firms cut corners and are only in the business to get rich, are resurfacing as more traditional institutions have trouble adapting to a rapidly changing and increasingly demanding clientele.

The workshop shed light on some issues and questions infrequently encountered in the United States. For example, should data be presented to a public that does not read, or to a public that speaks a half dozen different languages? How should a private firm be established within an economic system that does not look favorably on such entrepreneurial activities? Although balancing various viewpoints within a local community is common in U.S.-based CRM, it is exacerbated in other countries where the increasingly numerous younger population's desire for economic development competes with the older population's desire to retain vestiges of their history. Many countries view archaeology as part of the heritage of colonialism with little relation to people's lives. Contributing to this perspective is the lack of understanding and communication among international organizations with cultural resource requirements, local governments, and various publics.

A number of the workshop papers are available at www.uct.ac.za/depts/age/wac/.The workshop was a great opportunity to convene people with similar interests from a wide variety of backgrounds to begin a dialogue about a global perspective on CRM. But it was only a beginning. A continuation of this discussion at future WAC conferences would be beneficial. ·

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

back to top of page


Previous pageTable of ContentsNext Page