Archaeology and Economic Development 2012

Do Good, Do Research: Why the Two Must Meet to Maximise Economic Gain

Development of archaeological sites for economic gain is a process fraught with difficulties.  When site development is led by government agencies, tensions frequently arise between developer needs and those of academic archaeologists.  When archaeologists are leading the charge, simple needs of visitors – restrooms, maintenance budgets, etc. – are frequently ignored.  Regardless of the professional background of developers, the harsh reality is that few archaeological sites will provide sufficient return on investment or generate enough revenue to support sustainable maintenance.  This paper discusses new models that can support development of archaeological sites at low, medium and large scale projects.  In all of these models, continued research plays an important role in both financial and intellectual support for sites.

No site is ever fully investigated.  As social, cultural and political life evolve, so do interpretations and the narratives presenting sites to visitors.  Sites are most visited when the public feels they provide relevant and fresh views on issues at the heart of contemporary culture.  Such relevance is sustainable only if sites are not frozen in time.  Sites must constantly evolve so narratives presented by and through them will not become stale and irrelevant. 

Continued research in sites open to the public is usually seen as burden on operation budgets.  Yet, careful planning and innovative deployment of archaeologists and archaeological research can actually yield net income.  There are three models we will discuss here.

First, incorporating archaeologists and their research into ‘display’ elements of sites will generate public interest and increase ‘value’.  Such model will work particularly well when archaeologists are compelled to explain their work to visitors at frequent and regular basis.

Second, archaeologists should be asked to conduct research addressing community interests and/or those relevant for potential visitors.  Making sites relevant is making them popular.  Popular sites generate increasing visitation, exposure and therefore, increasing revenue.

Both models are not limited to sites in wealthy nations were entry fees are substantial and can generate significant income.  Sites in poor nations may not yield sufficient income from visitors, especially in admission costs for locals is adjusted to accommodate economic realities.  Yet significant numbers of visitors will propel sites into the consciousness of government agencies, NGO’s and private donors, attracting funding in a continued, engaging, and thus sustainable manner.

Third, international field schools may provide significant, sustainable revenue stream.  Many US students are seeking meaningful cultural experiences.  The US government – through the Paul Simon Study Abroad Act – wishes to see a fourfold increase in the number of US students traveling abroad and view the issue as part of its strategic national interest.  Archaeological sites – whether domestic or abroad – allow students to explore and engage with cultures significantly different than their own.  Students gain academic credit units for participation in field schools and through their tuition can provide significant source of income, as well as enthusiastic and intelligent labor force.  Excellent field schools are attractive to generations of students and properly implemented programs can generate interest and participation for prolong periods of time.          

Page last modified on 08 aug 12 21:41