Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page

European Association of Archaeologists Annual Meeting

Janet Levy

The European Association of Archaeologists (EAA) held its fourth annual meeting in Göteborg, southwestern Sweden, on September 23-27, 1998. More than 500 people attended the meeting, which was held on the campus of the University of Göteborg under the direction of Kristian Kristiansen, professor of archaeology at the university and outgoing president of EAA. The local arrangements were directed by Anna-Carin Andersson and the program chair was Per Cornell, both assisted by numerous staff and students from the University of Göteborg. I was one of about eight Americans present at the meetings, arriving from Finland, where I am spending the 1998-1999 academic year as a Fulbright scholar at the University of Oulu.

EAA was founded at a meeting in Ljubljana, Slovenia, in 1994, to create the first organization that formally convenes archaeologists from all over Europe. The founders explicitly recognized the disappearance of earlier political obstacles, the growing economic integration of Europe, and the growing threats to Europe's rich archaeological heritage. EAA was created to develop an integrated and cooperative European archaeology, promote the exchange of archaeological information and effective management and interpretation of European archaeological heritage, and to create effective ethical and scientific standards for archaeological work. The current membership is just over 1,000.

Göteborg is a bustling, attractive city, built across several inlets and canals, with a wealth of bridges, fountains, museums, shopping, and historic buildings. The weather, I am afraid, is not as attractive as the city. It reminded me of Seattle; the sun came out for about four hours during the five days I was there. Luckily, papers and social events kept us extremely busy and one could generally ignore the constant grayness.

About 350 papers and posters were presented, with significant student participation. As might be expected, the biggest national contingent was from Sweden, with strong representation from Norway and Britain. In addition, there were many participants from Russia, the Baltic Republics, and other parts of the former East Bloc. This joint participation from the former west and east blocs meets one of the key goals of the organization's founders. The language of the meeting was English.

The meeting opened with greetings by representatives of the university, the city of Göteborg, the county, and the Swedish National Heritage Board, all sponsors of the meeting (along with Wenner-Gren Foundation, local museums, and local businesses). Then the EAA Annual Lecture, "Imagine Archaeology: On the Importance of Images in Archaeological Presentations," was presented by Jarl Nordbladh of the Department of Archaeology, Göteborg University, focusing on the engravings of the 17th and 18th centuries as evidence of contemporary attitudes toward prehistory. The opening program concluded with a short lecture by Ulf Bertilsson on the current status of rescue archaeology (CRM) in Sweden, followed by a wine reception for all attendees.

One group of sessions was devoted to managing the archaeological heritage, with contributions from both Western and Eastern Europe. A second group of sessions focused on methodological and theoretical issues, while the third block, "Archaeology and Material Culture: Interpreting the Archaeological Record," included a variety of cultural-historical and theoretical presentations. These included, among many others, "Archaeology of Cult," "Maritime Archaeology," "Migrations in Prehistory" (chaired by Dean Snow, Penn State University), "The Prehistory and Early History of Atlantic Europe," "The Baltic Sea in the Bronze Age," and "Social Life in the Stone Age."

Discussion times were built into every session and, in general, the chairs were successful in keeping these open for discussion. In addition to Snow, presentations from Americans included Anne Pyburn (Indiana University), Rob Schmidt (UC-Berkeley), Jeannine Davis-Kimball (Center for the Study of Eurasian Nomads, Berkeley), Stephanie Koerner (University of Pittsburgh), Harrison Eiteljorg (Center for the Study of Architecture, Bryn Mawr), and myself. Archaeologists from Argentina and Canada also presented. My presentation about NAGPRA was received with a great deal of interest by Scandinavian archaeologists who are just beginning to grapple with similar issues in their relationships with the Sami (Lapps).

The annual business meeting was held on Saturday afternoon, at the end of all other sessions. The usual reports on membership, finances, and plans for the future were delivered. The incoming president, Willem Willems of the Netherlands, was introduced. Roger Thomas, of English Heritage, presented the results of a working group that had developed a code of conduct for contract archaeologists. This code was adopted by a vote of the members present and seems to represent the first pan-European set of standards for CRM work. A general code of archaeological conduct had been adopted by EAA at the 1997 meeting.

Particularly enjoyable was the Saturday evening sit-down dinner for more than 300 people in the banquet room of one of Göteborg's finest restaurants. Salmon paté was served with beer, filet of venison was accompanied by red wine, and cloudberry parfait on almond meringue was accompanied by liqueurs--a class act!

Early Sunday morning, we met again for excursions to local sites and museums. I chose an excursion to the classic Bronze Age rock art sites of Bohusln, western Sweden, which was a stupendous trip. After viewing pictures of these rock carvings for 20 years, it was thrilling to see the real thing. Unlike most rock art in the United States, these are on slightly sloping horizontal exposures rather than on vertical cliff faces. They are adjacent to agricultural land, although they would have been closer to the sea in the Bronze Age because of isostatic land rise. They are dominated by images of boats and human or humanoid figures, often brandishing weapons or standing in apparent processions. We also visited the newly-opened museum devoted to rock art at Vitlycke, Tanum. The museum emphasized an atmospheric and emotionally-evocative presentation of the rock art, downplaying culture-historical information. Video is a central part of the exhibits, but almost no artifacts are on display. I found this unappealing, but it remains to be seen how the general public will respond.

EAA is a young organization trying to grow at a time when the political and economic structures of Europe are experiencing significant change. It seems clear that the organization will have to struggle to bridge cultural differences in the practice of archaeology in these countries, particularly across the former East-West divide. The political role of archaeology is a central concern of the organization and was discussed from several perspectives in numerous presentations. An overarching topic is the way that archaeology and symbols from prehistory and early history are used--or misused--in various nationalist and ethnic political struggles. In addition, the growing role of CRM archaeology concerns the membership, especially the recent development of private commercial CRM firms. The development of completely free trade and a single currency within the European Union means that CRM firms will be able to bid on projects outside of their home countries. This idea is completely new in Europe and generated a great deal of discussion at a roundtable devoted to the future of CRM. Finally, attention is being devoted to the conservation and management of the archaeological and historical heritage in the face of economic development, military conflict, and/or neglect.

It is my impression that EAA members are among the most outward- and forward-looking archaeologists in Europe, who are eager to develop a transnational approach to archaeology. The next EAE Annual Meeting will be held in September 1999, at Bournemouth, England. More information about the organization can be found on its web page www.molas.org.uk/eaa.html.

Janet Levy is associate professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte.

Return to top of page


Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page