Place, landscape, ecology, and practice of cultural heritage preservation

Autores: Ludomir R. Lozny

Publicación: Archaeologia Polona, ISBN 0066-5924, Nº Vol. 38, 2000, pags. 23-32

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The two themes discussed in this paper concern historical ecology (landscape history) presented as a guiding idea for cultural resource management (CRM) practices, and the concept of place as a time-space identification of past human activities. Historical ecology is the study of the relationships between people and the various enviromental variables. Its multidimensional orientation combines the knowledge of all aspects of human activity with the theory and methodology of ecology. Generally, the practice of heritage preservation depends on the policies geared towards preserving selected evidence of human behavior from the past. Such an approach usually contributes a limited knowledge about the past set uo on seemingly blurred data compiled through the application of imprecise archaeological methods. Contrary to a popular opinion, however, CRM should not be viewed as a lesser variation of academic archaeology. In my opinion, it encompasses far broader, ecological outlook, for it deals with various ecological aspects that concern diverse human interactions from the past, present, and future. In theory, all ecological variables labeled as cultural resources refer to various aspects of culture. I argue that, although CRM remains undefined as a scientific discipline, its methodology may profoundly benefit from the integrative approach offered by historical ecology (landscape history).
Another topic discussed in the paper relates to the decision-making present in cultural heritage presevation policies. The obvious question is: What should be preserved, and why? Because the problem is of political nature, perhaps it should be discussed separately for specific political context. I would like to offer a proposition, however, which goes beyond the politically charged concept of culture. As we move away from ethnically bounded polities, the concept of place rather than culture will, in my view, become the critical focus of decision-making, which stipulates the pratmatics of cultural heritage preservation policies. I identify cultural heritage domain as a "cultural landscape", place filled symbolically with diverse meanings and encompassing all details of human behavior within an ecosystem. The concept of place delineated here concerns, therefore, not just the material objects, but also certain memories, feelings, sense of belonging, etc. Place, however, does not replace culture. Its meaning is composed of two distinct realms: cultural (recognized) and natural, and both could be experienced simultaneously. The full potential of place is in its specific cultural designation.