Archaeology 101: Cultural Heritage Management: what is it?

For the past few weeks, I have been scouring the internet and pouring through books and articles trying to get an idea of what constitutes cultural heritage management, cultural heritage planning, and how archaeology is integrated into this process.  It’s a concept which is relatively obscure to many archaeologists trained in North America.  For myself, cultural heritage management and archaeology didn’t seem to integrate given the nature of where I work.  The dynastic Egyptian culture, or more to the point in my own work, the Predynastic Egyptian culture, does not exist anymore, and has not for thousands of years.  This does not mean that the current people of Egypt feel no connection to the ancient past, but the culture of modern Egypt is not contiguous with that of ancient Egypt.  Pantheons of gods are not worshiped at monumental temples, hieratic is no longer the common script, social behaviors have changed, and Pharaoh no longer rules the masses.  Integrating archaeology into a cultural heritage plan for a place like Egypt, unless it applies to excavation of Muslim-era sites, has a bit of a disconnect.

Perhaps I am getting ahead of myself.  Understanding what constitutes “cultural heritage management” is of primary importance.  While it is defined slightly differently depending on the group putting the concept into action, generally speaking, cultural heritage management strives to preserve the heritage of cultural groups while integrating this rich heritage into a contemporary context and allowing for future growth.  For archaeologists, this means incorporating oral histories, present cultural practices, historical archives information and the archaeological remains of past cultural practices in concert and cooperation with those of a specific cultural descent.  Heritage is being preserved, both at a more contemporary, cultural level, as well as at an archaeological level.  An important question which arises (specifically for archaeologists) is: in working with cultural groups to preserve archaeological heritage, what is culturally significant to the collective?  The entire aim is to preserve cultural heritage, and the input of the group whose heritage is being managed/preserved is very important.

Cultural heritage management/planning is a very integrated, nuanced and complex process.  It is not reactionary, as so much archaeology can be.  In many cases, a plan is created to address the material culture of the archaeological record as it appears during excavation.  Based on prior knowledge from oral histories, archival studies, past excavations, and input from living cultural descendants,  archaeologists can plan for specific outcomes of excavation even before beginning.  They will know what is culturally significant, how it fits into the history of the descendant group, and what to do to preserve that history according to the specifications of living descendants.  It is really quite amazing to think of having the ability to immediately place archaeological material into a broader cultural context based on oral history and living knowledge.

This blog post is really meant to whet your appetite, a teaser trailer, if you will, to learn the intricacies involved in cultural heritage management/planning.  Fascinating, isn’t it?  This summer, the Department of Anthropology in conjunction with the Campus Archaeology Program is offering a course aimed at learning the process of cultural heritage management and planning.  This is a great opportunity to learn about what goes into the complex and fascinating process of cultural heritage management!  Applications for this course are due by Saturday March 15th, so get your applications in now!  It promises to be a very unique and rewarding experience for all involved!


Author: Andy LoPinto

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