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Broadening the Field of Archaeology to Benefit World Civilization
—an interview with British archeologist Peter Stone
CSSN reporter: Liu Yue Photograph: Liang Weiguo
Camera: Zhong Yongxin Video Production: Zhao Yue
Recently, the reporter of Chinese Social Sciences Net participated in one of the CASS Social Sciences Forum, CASS Forum (2011. History) - East and Southeast Asia Heritage Management. During the conference, the reporter got a chance to consult an archaeological specialist, the head of the School of Arts and Culture in Newcastle University, Peter Stone on some practical problems including “World Archaeological Congress (WAC)”.
Peter Stone: head of the School of Arts and Culture in Newcastle University. Peter was appointed to the University in 1997, as Director of the International Centre for Cultural and Heritage Studies (ICCHS) in the School of Arts and Cultures in 2001, and as Head of School in 2006. Peter teaches and researches in heritage management, interpretation and education. Between 1998 and 2008 he was Chief Executive Officer of the World Archaeological Congress. In 2003 he was archaeological advisor to the UK Ministry of Defense prior to the invasion of Iraq and is currently involved in research into the practicalities and ethics of cultural heritage experts working with the military.
We know you have vast experience in various academic posts and archeological and heritage site management-related organizations, but can you tell us what does the organization do that you’re working for now and what do you do in the organization?
Peter Stone: My job at the moment is to work for Newcastle University, and I’m head of the school of arts and cultures, and that is not only cultural heritage management, but also music and fine arts and digital media and media and cultural studies, so I’m a university administrator. My own interests are in heritage management and heritage education. I started my career as a teacher and realized that children were being asked to learn history that didn’t interest them. But if I took an object into class the kids would be very interested. I trained as an archaeologist and soon realized that to do education well you needed to have education situated within the heritage organization; that meant good management of a heritage site. So I worked for 10 years with the English heritage organization center service. At that time we helped develop materials for teachers to use the historic environment, and the physical remains of the past in their teaching. Then in 1997, I moved to a university, and changed from professor to the head of school. But my academic interests were in heritage management and protection of cultural property especially in the times of armed conflict.
What is the world archaeological Congress (WAC) and what relationship does it have with UNESCO?
Peter Stone: The world archaeological Congress is an organization that was created in 1986 to look at what we call the social aspects of archaeology. Previously, academic conferences on archaeology had been dominated by scholars from the west and especially from Europe and North America. They were trained in the scholarship of the western tradition. We argued that that was probably not the whole story of how different people tended to interact with the past. Of course, there were archaeologists from all over the world who had different traditions, like Chinese archaeologists who had a different way of looking at the past, but also Soviet archaeologists, African archaeologists and many others. So, for example, the organization that we grew out of was dominated by northern European and North American archaeologists had at its conference a few years ago a whole session on the archaeology of Africa, but there had been not one African present at the meeting. So we were very keen to make sure that archaeologists from all over the world joined, but we were also very keen that those who were not trained as archaeologists were also available to take part, so community leaders and indigenous peoples who have the same past that archaeologists are interested in, but look at it in a very different way. And so a certain artifact may be able to allow an archaeologist to date the site accurately, but to an indigenous person that artifact is perhaps a sacred object. Therefore, there began clashes between the interests of the archaeologists and the indigenous peoples. For example, one topic that’s was (and is) very contentious is the issue of human remains: archaeologists will excavate human remains due to the information it can give about the past society, but many indigenous peoples are completely against the excavation of human remains because their ancestors and their spiritual belief usually believes that their ancestors will move through into the afterlife with the decay of their bones in the ground. So this is an obvious conflict that needs to be considered. Therefore all of UNESCO’s conventions have a responsibility to that primary aim of understanding the indigenous issues. And so what we should be doing and what a group of us did when we worked with UNESCO in the 1990s was to develop a new world heritage education project, which would identify issues around the world heritage sites such as their useful identity, the friction of tourism, and the balance of conservation and overuse, and the whole environmental impact including climate change and those sorts of issues. These considerations lead to the final element of that program which was to develop a cultural space.
What do you make of China placing more emphasis on the world heritage list, and what are the benefits to a site being on the world heritage list?
Peter Stone: The benefits for world heritage sites are firstly that they have an international profile, so more people will know about them, and more people will understand the culture that created the site, and more people will visit. But with more people visiting it can be a problem because of too many people visit at the wrong time of the year or altogether than that can cause major problems. But the benefits are that one can explain about one’s own culture within that global family of sites, but also by people coming to visit, it is an economic asset to the region.
Translated by: Devin Wang