State reforms of French archaeology imminent

Mass resignations spur Minister to action.



The mass resignation earlier this year of the Conseil Superieur de la Recherche Scientifique (CSRS), the official body at the head of French archaeology, has led to the commissioning of a report by the Minister of Culture, Jack Lang, which is now being considered by the CSRS. The report proposes reforms of the CSRS itself; a drastic decentralisation and the setting up of an interministerial committee (the relevant ministries are Research, Foreign Affairs, and the recently merged Culture and Education).

The report emphasises the need to establish solid links between research, the archaeological heritage and society; to make sites accessible to the public and to publish them equally accessibly. It also recommends that excavations be coordinated at a national level, albeit at the same time as more powers are devolved to the regions, this decentralisation freeing the CSRS of its administrative and financial role and giving it the freedom to concentrate on scholarly matters, with—and this is a novelty—systematic recourse to the advice of outside experts. Besides planning excavations throughout the nation, then, the Conseil will now conduct any emergency works which arise, such as the preliminary excavations when a rail road or motorway is being built, or in any exceptionally difficult local cases.

The problems of French archaeology are deep-rooted, although the discipline is recently established: the law which supports its activities dates only from 1941, and has hardly been modified since then. The first State archaeological services were created by Andre Malraux only in 1964. Emergency archaeology was born at the end of the Sixties in response to increased building. Its activities have grown with every year, but public financing has not, so it is more and more dependent on what it can extract through planning regulations from the developers and industrialists themselves. It has also come to rely on the parttime staff made available by the Association pour le Fouilles d’Archeologie Nationale, which in turn depends largely on private money, although it is in the charge of the Ministry. It began with a budget of Ffr10 million p.a. and now disposes of 300 million; it has over a thousand members, many of them professionals but forced to wander from excavation to excavation, without the opportunity to specialise.

Although recently the Association has been enabled to take on some 250 full-time archaeologists, there is still an acute shortage. Alain Schnapp, lecturer in Greek archaeology at Paris University, says that the profession is short of at least 400 practical archaeologists. “In France we probably have between two and three million archaeological sites, but the ministerial archaeological service lists just 50,000”.