Preventive Archaeology in France: Saving the Past for the Future


Jean-Paul DeMoule - President of the French National Research Institute for Rescue Archaeology  


Abstract: Development works turn up over 700 square kilometers every year in France. A major archaeological site is encountered on average every kilometer. Some 500,000 archaeological sites are listed in national records, but at least five times as many are estimated to exist unrecorded. Not only has the rate of their discovery and destruction increased manifold in the last half century, there are grounds to fear that the next two or three generations will see the near total disappearance of many types of sites. This scenario is fairly typical throughout Western Europe. Out of this crisis has emerged a new form of archaeology, best captured by the concept of `preventive archaeology´. Preventive archaeology focuses on archaeological remains threatened by planned infrastructural and development schemes. Rather than wish away the menace, or scramble belatedly to ward off the crushing bulldozers, preventive archaeology works from the very beginning of the planning process with all relevant developers, builders, and local authorities, to ensure that archaeological remains at risk are detected, recorded, and evaluated. This enables well-informed decisions to be taken on their subsequent management, be it through properly conducted and documented excavations, which then release grounds for development, or through preservation in situ, leading to the modification or even abandonment of any development plans.