The Valetta Convention

The sanctuary of Isis and Cybele, Mainz

As a responsible citizen, I often complain about my government. However, occasionally, things are just done well. The Convention of Valetta, or the “European Convention on the Protection of the Archaeological Heritage” as it is called officially, is a case in point.

It established a very basic principle: the person who wants to build on a specific site, is responsible for financing the excavation. This has created much clarity. Even though we cannot say that someone or some body “owns the past”, at least it is agreed who pays the bill (and will probably forward it to others).

As a consequence, several important things have happened. In the first place, the developers of great building projects have learned to ask archaeologists to predict how much money they will need. Large databanks have been created, which are valuable scientific projects in themselves. In Holland, the expected weakness (what to do if there is an unexpected, really sensational find for which we have no budget?) has turned out to be less serious than some critics feared.

In the second place, archaeologists have learned to better look at the budget. Which is a good thing, because in the end, you and I have to pay the bill.

In the third place, construction companies have learned that archaeology is intrinsically valuable. They have learned to recognize it as an added value. They invite architects, at a very early stage, to make sure that future visitors are aware that they are on an archaeologically important site. Examples: the way the sanctuary of Isis and Cybele has become accessible in a new shopping mall in Mainz, or the multi-storey car park in Woerden, where you can see some of the finds from the Roman castellum.

In the fourth place -and this is a future development- if finds are shown in situ, museums can concentrate on other activities than displaying objects. They can show the choices made by archaeologists and explain what archaeology and history are really about.

All these changes are, in my view, advances.

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