Technical approaches and instruments
Archaeological databases and archaeological base maps
A standard approach to documenting archaeological information is to create a geo-referenced database that can be used to produce thematic maps with various layers of archaeological (and other) information, as needed in a specific context.
In archaeology, such geographic information systems (GIS) are commonly used both for post-processing and analysing archaeological excavation sites (intra-site analysis) and for assessing spatial information on archaeological landscapes that combine a larger number of sites and/or excavation projects (inter-site analysis).
For the purposes of documenting archaeological information in a post-conflict situation, these systems have to be adapted to specific needs, in particular as regards archaeological information on built-up urban areas that have not previously been the subject of (extensive) research and/or excavation. To a large extent, information will have to be collected after analysing and assessing the available documents, records and research, adopting an approach similar to that applied when establishing digital archives.
This initial information will generally need to be complemented by ground checks and surveys. These cannot be performed, however, until fighting has subsided, cities and sites are accessible, and a minimum level of safety and security has been re-established.
From a longer-term perspective, such information systems need to be regularly updated with information generated in the process of reconstruction and rebuilding.
Analysis of strategraphic layers
In many cases, the documentation and analysis of available information and records will need to be checked and verified on the ground through archaeological investigation and research.
The classic approach will be excavation works aiming with a stratigraphy aiming at identifying the different layers / stratifications of man-made structures, buildings and artefacts. Given the numerous layers of civilisation in many old cities of the Middle East and the time pressure for repair and reconstruction in a post-conflict situation it will be important to find a balance between the interests of archaeological research, and the needs of the people who want to return and rebuild their places of livelihood and living.
In some cases, it may be possible to apply non-invasive and virtual archaeological prospection methods to identify previously unknown or undetected archaeological sites. Although tremendous technical progress has taken place in recent years, this technology remains largely limited to the scanning of sites in open landscapes.
Delineation of special protection zones
Delineating and establishing special protection zones reflects a practical approach to gaining time in case prolonged investigation is needed to protect archaeological heritage layers underground in built-up areas of cities. It is applied in numerous of countries under a variety of names and in different forms:
- In Greater London in the UK, Archaeological Priority Areas – APA, are defined as “areas areas where there is significant known archaeological interest or potential for new discoveries” and where urban development or construction projects might negatively affect heritage assets.
- In Switzerland, the establishment of archaeological protection zones by the (archäologische Schutzzonen) provides the legal basis for temporary stopping building activities and construction works to allow for archaeological research.
- In Germany, “municipal building oversight includes the examination of all applications for construction permits to determine whether archaeological sites or listed historical monuments are endangered by a project. If this is the case, the builder and architect are invited to discuss the reasons and the estimated duration of the archaeological rescue excavations before construction can actually begin and thus give the builder planning reliability.
- The duration of the archaeological investigations depends on the size of the area involved and the depth of the archaeological layers as well as the type and complexity of the expected finds. In the course of the approximately one hundred years of historical-monument protection in the urban area of Cologne more than 3000 old find reports have been filed away so that find expectations can often be very precisely predicted.” (source: website of the Romano-Germanic Museum in Cologne).
In reconstruction after armed conflict, when there is an urgent need for building activities with major excavation works, the designation of special archaeological protection zones can help to prevent important archaeological heritage layers from being damaged or destroyed. In principle, such zones are relevant for all works that entail significant (underground) soil intervention – not only excavations for buildings, but also underground works for utilities (e.g. water and gas pipes), which may not need planning permission.
The designation/establishment of special protection zones usually depends on the existence of statutory provisions enshrined in national law. If applied properly, this approach can be key to planning for culturally-sensitive reconstruction.