Prospects for Sweden

By Rundkvist, Martin | Antiquity, September 2010 | Go to article overview

Prospects for Sweden


Rundkvist, Martin, Antiquity


Swedish archaeology enters the new decade reeling, not so much from seasonal feasting as from lay-offs and excavation unit close-downs caused by the 2008-09 recession. Where to now? Where should we go? And, wishful thinking aside, where are we likely to end up?

Where are we now?

Ours is a large country with many spruce trees, many elks and few people. We are only 9.3 million citizens on 450 000[km.sup.2], with 90 per cent of that population living in the country's southern third where almost all land development takes place. Sweden has one of the world's most comprehensive sites and monuments registers (www.fornsok.se) and probably the world's strongest legal protection for archaeological sites. In Sweden, a site receives protection comparable to UK scheduling the moment it is identified. Our concept of a site currently extends to tar-making pits, isolated cultivation layers and the findspots of single knapped quartz flakes. And it shows a long-term tendency to grow ever more inclusive. All medieval towns are large sites, legally speaking. If citizens have reason to believe that there is a site in front of them, then they are required by law to protect it from harm.

Land owners have no right to finds that others make on their property and there are no trespassing laws. Metal-detector use is severely restricted. Archaeological finds belong to the finder, though anything made, at least in part, of precious metal or copper alloy must be offered to the state for a reward, as must any objects of other materials where more than one are found together, such as a scatter of flint and pottery. The Museum of National Antiquities, where many of the finest objects are kept, has a world-class online catalogue (mis.historiska.se).

Salvage archaeology is developer-funded and each job above a certain cost-threshold is put out to tender by the county council. The council also handles heritage aspects of building permits and decides whether there is a salvage job in each case. Contract archaeology is a three-step process: evaluation, trial excavation and final excavation. The evaluation step allows the County Archaeologist to place unusually fine sites off-limits for land development and (more often) allows road engineers to slalom around expensive archaeology when finalising their projects. Each step is put out to tender. About 45 excavation units compete for the jobs, though each has only a certain radius of action. They range in size from oneman consultancy firms to the five large state-owned units of the National Heritage Board, Uppdragsverksamheten, UV. Archaeologists move around from unit to unit and rarely achieve steady positions for very long. Thus there is not much enmity between the units, but I do perceive a certain shared animosity against County Archaeologists and their staff. They are sadly not very popular among land developers either.

Academic archaeology is weakly connected to contract archaeology. An archaeology MA can be had at seven of Sweden's universities, five of which also offer a PhD, but university courses are not designed to make field archaeologists of the students. Most university teachers have long since left salvage archaeology behind them, and most archaeology MAs and BAs never get a job in the business. Thus Swedish archivists, librarians and civil servants are exceptionally well trained in archaeology these days. There is, however, a strong one-way migration of our now numerous archaeology PhDs from the universities into contract archaeology. I sometimes discuss this with a professor friend, and he maintains that all of the archaeology PhDs his department produces get jobs. I reply that yes, they are edging non-PhDs out of poorly paid digging jobs that do not actually require PhD-level training. This has also produced a situation where the people in the County Archaeologist's office who read and evaluate project proposals in the tender process often have a far shorter and far less up-to-date archaeological education than the people who write those project proposals. …

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