Archaeo-spatial Europe

Written 1997 and published at Telepolis: Europa - ein grosser Natur- oder Geschichtspark?

Should Europe be a nature park, or a heritage park? It should be neither, but that is the choice that is being imposed. It is no longer absurd, to think in terms of single park status for Europe. The scale of the original national parks in the USA was large, but they were in remote thinly populated areas. The scale of national parks and protected landscapes in Europe is smaller, but these zones now cover an increasing amount of territory per nation state. The number and type of protected zones increases, while area is stable, and therefore the inevitable trend is to full coverage.

Some park-like planning structures were already large, even a generation or more ago. The London and Moscow green belts were both in the 100 kilometre range. The new buffer zones, recreational areas and de-agriculturalised zones of European planning are approaching the 500 kilometre range, in the Benelux and in Germany. The green zones and recreational structures proposed for the central capitals region in Europa 2000+, the European Union proto-plan, are also at this scale (European Commission 1994).

The scale of historical/ archaeological sites and parks was until recently much smaller, but the concentration of activity was much greater. The investment in re-structuring is now also greater. (On the presence of the past and heritage in economy and space, see Lowenthal 1985, and Walsh 1992). The proposed, and later abandoned, Disney civil war theme complex in Virginia is indicative of the level of investment. So is the less directly historically oriented Holland Village in Japan. Similarly the scale of investment in non-historical theme parks is increasing. Theme park types of spatial structure are now able to organise former industrial zones (Time Warner in the Ruhr) or inner urban areas (like 42nd Street in New York, see Rose, 1996). Given the level of investment, and the scale, of other recreational structures, the spatial scale of archaeological and historical parks is likely to increase as well. Probably they will be into the 100 kilometre range in the next 20 years.

The combined impact of these trends, if they continue, is that all Europe will be in a park-like spatial structure within 50 years. This trend to mega-park or universal park structures, described in another article, is a basic trend of modernity. The rural landscape/ tourism policy of the EU is already for all of Europe, in principle (Europäische Kommission 1995).

Although such normative large scale divisions of territory may be vague, that does not mean they can not be exclusive. They are often presented in cartographic form, and their disadvantages are summarised by Kunzmann (1993: 393) as: vagueness of content, the dominance of graphic criteria, ease of manipulation, and lack of political commitment to goals. Yet mapping a large scale zone as "heritage zone" does definitively exclude it as non-heritage zone.

Such designations are a form of claim to territory. This is independent of the status of the archaeology or heritage itself - real or not, authentic or pastiche (Hodder 1992). This type of claim is unlikely to be replaced by the computer graphic reconstruction of large sites, such as that at Xanten. Instead, virtual reconstructions like this are likely to increase pressure for real construction: more of these projects may result from the Virtual Museum of European Archaeology. (In Berlin, a full-scale painted facade was used to promote the reconstruction of the Prussian Stadtschloss, demolished by the East Berlin authorities: virtual reality is not confined to computers).

Nature versus history

This hyper-restorative trend, at increasing scale, brings the possibility of conflicts between themes - the kind of nature versus history conflict that so damaged the Disney Virginia project.

Another possibility is of coalescence or convergence on a single park type, following the trend in urban policy. (Urban policy inevitably merges with rural policy as the scale of urban regions continues to grow). Urban policy in Europe is already centred on a sustainability-heritage-culture combination. It constitutes an urban model: the term "urban Euroscape" is used to claim all territory in Europe for this model (Mega 1996).

There is already some literature on restoration of past landscapes, up to planetary scale. "Restoration ecology" is an issue with links to more general issues of environmental philosophy. Some convergence of intellectual and academic activity is already present. It aims at "....recovering the properties of a variety of landscapes through archaeological, geological, historical or literary research or analysis" (Baldwin, de Luce and Pletsch 1993: 7). The claimed dualisms of nature-culture, or nature-humanity may therefore be temporary: in urban policy no-one now sets "sustainability" against "culture". In the European Union, tourism projects such as the model European Culture Park already combine nature and culture heritage, archaeology and cycle paths (Europäische Kommission 1995: 1, 10, 31).

This coalescence is another indicator of scale trends. On convergence, the scale of nature restoration projects will probably be adopted for archaeological projects. One signposted tourist route, the "Via Romana" is already 5 500 km long (Europäische Kommission 1995: 14).

In the Netherlands theme conflict is already a fact, and this indicates a process of convergence may also start. Plans for the full conversion of large metropolitan areas at 50 kilometre scale to nature parks, are now in preparation (Smaal and de Visser 1996). The World Fund for Nature/ Wereld Natuurfonds (WNF) is the most active in advocating a re-structuring of the Netherlands into a nature park, an inhabited nature park, yet with a restored pre-settlement landscape. (These plans parallel more conventional recreational proposals, see ANWB/WNF 1995).

The Netherlands a nature park? Apparently, archaeologists cannot let this pass. In a typical response, Jan Kolen and David van Reybrouck attacked the WNF plans, beginning with the symbolic and ethical value of the reintroduction of the white-tailed eagle. The eagle may never have been native to the area. The suggestion is that nature is being faked in nature parks, at the expense of cultural heritage on land settled for centuries:

De ironie wil dat nieuwe natuurgebieden vaak worden ontwikkeld op voormalige landbouwgrond. De boer moet plaatsmaken voor de recreant. Zo ontstaan valse tegenstellingen tussen cultuur en natuur, productie en recreatie, geschiedenis en stilstand. (Kolen and van Reybrouck 1996)
It is ironic that new nature areas are being laid out on former agricultural areas. The farmer has to make way for leisure users. This creates false oppositions between nature and culture, production and recreation, history and stagnation. (Kolen and van Reybrouck 1996)
Nothing is being deconstructed here: the authors have invented the oppositions themselves, as so many others. Nothing is being deconstructed: a policy of nature-archaeological parks is being constructed. By falsely claiming that an entity consists of a "false opposition", the value of the entity can be derived from "overcoming the opposition". This is no more than a rhetorical trick. The constructed "debate" will arrive at the position already stated about restoration ecology:
The first principle of restorationism is that nature and humanity are fundamentally united rather than separate. Humans are a natural part of nature, The familiar distinctions of the natural and artificial, of nature and culture, of ecology and economy, are not oppositions but a series of diverse and interrelated elements within a rich and unified whole. (Kane 1994: 72)
This debate, if it can be called that, is probably the first phase in the design process of the next generation of large park-like structures, mega-parks celebrating nature and cultural heritage.

The convergent trend

In summary, there is a spatial trend to an archaeo-spatial Europe, driven by: This trend rests on an implicit territorial claim: that all territory should be at least partly dedicated to the continuance of the past. In turn, this claim can be included within the values of the European conservative tradition.

Archaeology, concerned with material remains of the human past, is the legitimising academic discipline for this spatial trend.

Even if the metaphor of heritage is not used, archaeology and related disciplines claim value for artefacts, and for a broad range of material and non material entities derived from the past. The European Commission defines European Cultural Heritage as:

Geschichte und Architektur (städtische Denkmäler und Bauten, archäologische, militärische, religiöse und maritime Stätten, usw.), Industrie und Technologie (Textilindustrie, Eisen- und Stahlindustrie usw.), Handwerk (Kunsthandwerk, herkömmliche Handwerksberufe, Know-How usw.) oder Musik. (Europäische Kommission 1995a: 54)

The ethical claims

The legitimising of the past (especially this form of heritage) by the academic discipline of archaeology is circular. The argument takes the form: In the case of archaeology specifically, the claims are approximately this: The legitimising claims of archaeology can be rejected. That is, a contrary position can be stated, of equal logical validity. In the case of artefacts:
Projection of past into future has no inherent validity. Non-projection has equal value. Destruction rights of ancient artefacts are as legitimate as any existence rights. Knowledge of the past is transgenerational and subject to ethical rejection on that basis. No human-artefact relation legitimises an artefact, neither studying or valuing the artefact, nor owning it, nor biological descent from the maker, nor metaphorical ownership ('heritage'), nor institutional continuity with the makers of the artefact.
Similarly, the implicit claims to value of the past from complex arguments about the past are invalid. Claims that the Past is Other, or English Heritage, or some other heritage (see Thomas 1995) are all claims to value. But: no past, no complex theorising about the past. The implicit claim of work such as that of the Theoretical Archaeology Group, is that there can be no rejection of the past, because it is complex.

No value of the past can be derived from the past...

The claims to restructure all Europe for heritage, or the past, or patrimony, are monopoly claims. They exclude their own opposite. Monopoly claims, with no other basis than the claim itself, are unethical. An archaeo-spatial Europe is a Europe designed to continue the past, to the exclusion of innovation. Archaeology is setting out to legitimise this, by supporting the value claims about the past, made by supporters of the past.


The defining characteristic of archaeology is its arrogant denial of the freedom to reject the past. This makes archaeology wrong. (Possibly it makes the past wrong, if injustice is a necessary constituent of the continuation of that past).

Archaeology is based on inequality: unequal treatment of people with different values about the past. This is closely associated with social inequality. Research on access to universities shows difference between social classes of a factor 10 or more, within one country. Cross-national comparisons would increase this. In other words, archaeologists statistically come from social groups. These groups have the most to lose by change. This is likely to reinforce their ethical commitment to the past. Archaeological education and journals form a self-maintaining filter. It tends to exclude rejection of the past. This is described as "maintaining academic standards". However, these standards are based on inequality of persons, and inequality of values: they should disappear.

The apparent consensus which underlies the trend to a Europe of natural-archaeological parks, results from social structures which exclude and devalue opposition to that trend. The academic discipline of archaeology is central in these social structures. It claims value for material remains of the past, translated into territorial claims.

The past is value-less: its claimed value is falsely and unethically imposed by falsity, distortion, injustice and discrimination. There is no moral or ethical basis for an archaeo-spatial Europe.

Termination of heritage

To terminate the monopoly claim of an archaeo-spatial Europe, heritage and/or archaeological material should be terminated.

Priority lists for the clearance of heritage exist already. In the tradition of nation states, most European states have official list of national heritage, often integrated into the UNESCO list of world heritage. They may be supplemented by local, or regional lists. There are online examples from Baden-Württemberg and Vigo. A programme of clearance based on such lists would be a programme of nodal clearance. That is, it can start with some of the material in a zone, but it is unlikely to remove all archaeological material. That is not necessary. It is not the complete absence of heritage which defines a non-heritage zone, in the ethical sense. Instead, the fact that at least some territory is reserved for clearance, allows the goal of heritage clearance to exist. (That possibility is excluded, if all of Europe is reserved for heritage).

Stonehenge is good place to start such a nodal clearance programme. A programme can start by terminating Stonehenge itself, and then terminate other prehistoric sites in the region. These can be selected on the basis of their importance as symbolic heritage, or their archaeological value. The aim should be to clear the region of all easily traced prehistoric monuments. Such a programme at Stonehenge would involve:

This will not prevent the site becoming a place of pilgrimage for nationalists, but a location itself cannot be destroyed anyway. There is therefore no point in removing material from the site.

The first item should indicate, that such a clearance programme is not within the present real Europe, a Europe of nation states. The example is an extremely good illustration of the real links between past, nation, state, and armed force.

There are no contested meanings about the existence of Stonehenge, there is no post-modern fragmentation, there are no multiple voices, there is no discourse, there is no End of Ideology and no acceptable virtual replacement. Who supports the existence of Stonehenge?...

None of this is exaggerated: it is hard to think of any group in Britain which would support the termination of Stonehenge. (Possibly some Protestant and Muslim groups still see it as a pagan temple, or a satanic site). Britain backs Stonehenge. The past is already closely integrated into nation and society within nation states. In this context, the trend to an archaeo-spatial Europe does not deviate from the basic premise of a Europe of Nations - the basic structure of the existing European Union.

ANWB/WNF. 1995. Groen Hart? Groene Metropool! Recreatie en Natuur in de Randstad van Morgen. Utrecht: ANWB/WNF.

Baldwin, A. D., de Luce, J., and Pletsch, C. (editors). 1994. Beyond Preservation: Restoring and Inventing Landscapes. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

European Commission. 1994. Europa 2000+. Luxembourg: Office for Official Publications of the European Communities.

Europäische Kommission. 1995. Eurotourismus: Kultur und Landschaft. Luxemburg: Amt für amtliche Veröffentlichungen der Europäischen Gemeinschaften.

Europäische Kommission. 1995a. Leitfaden für Massnahmen zur regionalen Entwicklung (Artikel 10 der EFRE-Verordnung) 1995-1999. Luxemburg: Amt für amtliche Veröffentlichungen der Europäischen Gemeinschaften.

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