The Côa example (Bednarik 1995b) and others recently published have
shown that the state authorities who have in the past conducted
cultural heritage management (CRM) much as they saw fit are no longer
immune to independent review. The establishment agencies supervising
such matters, run by paid professionals with the ‘independent’ advice
of paid consultants, are beginning to be subjected to genuinely
independent peer review (Arcà et al. 2001).
While this is no doubt a healthy development, there has been opposition from some CRM quarters. It is relevant to cite from a pioneer of rock art conservation practices: ‘I find that almost anywhere I go, when governments, corporations and even academic colleagues within the discipline [of archaeology] become involved with rock art conservation, the results are usually disastrous’ (Swartz 1997a). This echoes the similar sentiments expressed by Bahn et al. (1996: 56-7) when they discuss the dynamics of CRM bureaucracy in general.
One of the responses to this new development has been the argument by CRM commentators that rock art conservators form a professional body that should not be criticised by outsiders, and that such criticisms are contrary to the interests of the discipline. There is perhaps some truth in this, even though the principle of developing a technocracy that is answerable only to its salaried practitioners is to be rejected. It must be appreciated, however, that most rock art site management work in the world is not conducted by trained conservators, but by people with other and often almost unrelated training, especially by archaeologists. There is nothing in standard archaeological training that could possibly provide the necessary expertise to make executive decisions on sound conservation and management practices. Such practices must be based primarily on geochemical and geomorphological knowledge, and knowledge about the failures and successes of other such projects around the world. The CRM ‘industry’ has no policy of disseminating information about failures, and tends to react negatively when such experiences are made public (cf. Bahn et al. 1995 and subsequent comments). In the past the result has been that site management mistakes were repeated over and over elsewhere, because failures were not reported. It should be obvious that improvements are only possible by frank and open exchanges, and for this an open system of peer review is essential. Those who oppose this undermine the credibility of the industry more than those who criticise past practices.
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Bibliography of rock art conservation
The home-page of the Australian Rock Art Research Association (AURA) Inc.