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Unearthing Cultural Treasures

Published: September 27, 2005 (Issue # 1108)


Let us turn, once again, to the problem of preserving cultural monuments, specifically the protection of archaeological monuments during construction. Its an issue thats particularly pressing in cities, towns and villages with centuries, if not millennia, of history under their belts, such as Novgorod, Pskov, and Staraya Ladoga. As the prosperity of Russians rises, the pace of housing and commercial construction picks up dramatically, and the foundation ditches and trenches for engineering communications almost inevitably cut straight through this rich archaeological layer of history and culture.

In order that these monuments be preserved, building works must be preceded by archaeological digs. A federal law on the protection of monuments, adopted in 2002, obliges developers preparing plots of land for construction to finance these digs. That pushes up the time periods for the construction works, and pushes up their eventual cost. The developers desire to minimize these expenses is understandable keep the costs low, and get the archaeological digs over with in the shortest possible time frame.

That brings the developer into conflict with the archaeologists, who want to carry out the digs as carefully as possible and, as a result, want as much time as they can get. In practice, the conflicts are resolved in a number of different ways, each dependent on the specific plot of land being developed. Nevertheless, whichever way it goes, one of the two parties is always left feeling hard done by.

In order to regulate these relations between developers, archaeologists and the local authorities, there should be a system drawn up detailing the demands made on developers. With that system in place, it would be easier to find resources to carry out the digs, and to train up personnel capable of carrying out those digs and preserving whatever is found of cultural significance.

Various proposals on such a system have already been put forward. The idea from Sergei Troyanovsky, deputy chairman of the Novgorod Oblast Culture, Film and Tourism Committee and head of the State Department for the Control, Preservation and Use of Historical and Cultural Monuments, seems to make a lot of sense. Troyanovsky suggests that, before putting a plot of land up for tender, the mayor of Novgorod could commission archaeological digs. The expenses incurred could then be covered when the plot goes up for sale. That should also make the tender process a lot smoother, meaning that such a plot could be sold at a good price its no secret that investors like plots of land where the archaeological digs have already been carried out.

An archaeological development of this kind could be carried out on a planned, systematic basis, and that means that the corresponding expenditures in the local budget could also be planned in advance. Various credit mechanisms could be put in place for projects of this kind, with their guaranteed profitability, and that means that the local budget wouldnt be hit too hard, if at all.

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