It seems that my comments yesterday on the small issue of signage at Ales stenar touched a nerve regarding something bigger, having to do with the National Heritage Board's overall societal role in relationship to archaeology and public outreach. Lars Amréus is the Board's Director General, an archaeologist and Qaisar Mahmood's boss. He has kindly written a guest entry in response to mine. My comments will follow in a later entry.
I’m a regular follower of Dr. Rundkvist's blog. I often find it both interesting and engaging. Above all, I appreciate that Dr. Rundkvist is an ardent advocate for knowledge, fact and scientific method, which I believe is hugely important in our times of “fake news” and “fact resistance”.
Therefore, I was surprised to read Dr. Rundkvist's blog entry about the archaeological site Ales stenar, since it contains several errors, some of which could easily have been avoided with some simple googling.
The entry has been written out of the assumption that the Swedish National Heritage Board (RAÄ) owns or manages the site. This is not true. For some time now, this has been the responsibility of the Swedish National Property Board, a government agency whose primary purpose is to manage and disseminate information about historic buildings, landscapes and ancient monuments of Swedish national importance. Consequently, there is no RAÄ staff working at the site, and RAÄ is not responsible for the information presented at the site.
The County Administrative Board of Skåne has decided that a sign presenting what might be described as “alternative facts” about the site should be allowed to be displayed. Dr. Rundkvist criticizes RAÄ for not appealing this decision to court. However, the fact of the matter is that there is simply no legal ground for RAÄ to appeal.
As an archaeologist, it is sometimes frustrating to see how archaeological sites are used for various purposes: political, personal and otherwise. But perhaps we need to remind ourselves that in the other end of the scales lays Freedom of Speech. In an open and democratic society people do have the right to say many things; even incorrect, stupid or repulsive.
Some of us may be surprised, and perhaps even saddened, by the decision of the County Administrative Board to allow “alternative facts” to be presented at Ales stenar. But until proven otherwise, it must be considered as a decision that rests on Swedish law.
Regardless of what some may believe, it is not the responsibility of RAÄ to be the judge of which interpretations are correct, incorrect or perhaps partly correct when it comes to archaeological sites in general. The information presented at each site is the responsibility of the owner/site-manager, in practice often in co-operation with the County Administrative Board. As far as I know, there is no formal way of bringing on-site information to scrutiny by a national expert authority.
The wider discussion of the interpretation of archaeological sites lies, of course, with the scientific community as a whole. It would be highly inappropriate, and indeed impossible, for a government agency such as RAÄ to act as a judge in matters of academia.
Finally, I strongly resent that Dr. Rundkvist implies that decisions at RAÄ are made (by a named official) based on (his claimed – not proven) political preferences. RAÄ is an agency under the Swedish government and by the rule of Swedish law. Dr. Rundkvist presents no evidence to suggest decisions have been made outside the mandate given to the Board. Given the main purpose of his blog, he should stay clear of presenting such theories without evidence to support it.
Swedish National Heritage Board
Dear Mr Amréus,
Let me ask you: what about my right, as a citizen who cares to be well-informed, to have signs at our heritage sites display what is accepted scholarly consensus or the current state of discussion, where there is no such consensus? Surely I have a right not to be mislead by official-looking signs into believing a local amateur's theory, which is in no way proven or even accepted by experts? Does not the state and its agents have any responsibility on this subject, or is the aim to present multiple theories, in the interest of free speech, and let us try to find out on our own which ones to believe?
Kristina Hildebrand (Dr)
Dear Dr. Hildebrand,
RAÄ has no involvement in this matter. We don't manage the site. We are not responsible for allowing the signs. I've tried to put the decision of the County Administrative Board into context, I haven't defended it. Maybe your question should be directed to the County Administrative Board? Or perhaps to your politician of choice, in case you find the present legislation on these matters to be unsatisfactory.
Dear Mr Amréus,
I have contacted them with this question. Yet I would like to point out that your argument concerning freedom of speech does, indeed, read like defending the decision to post the sign. This might be due to an unfortunate choice of words, but is, nevertheless, the impression it leaves.
Dear Dr. Hildebrand,
I think you may have misinterpreted me. But your'e quite right, of course. Freedom of speech does come with limitations. I was surprised by the decision to allow the sign. Ales stenar is a significant monument. It's owned by the State and has hundreds of thousands of visitors every year. Naturally, I would prefer for all information presented at the site to be as informative and scientifically correct as possible.