Archaeological Heritage Management in Austria

Archaeological Heritage Management in Austria
(by Erika Pieler, Bernhard Hebert and Andreas Picker)
Organisational framework
Austria is a federal republic, where the states (Bundesländer) have a lot of competences.
However, the protection of monuments and therefore also of archaeological remains is a
federal competence. This means that Austria has one legal act and one authority responsible
for the protection of monuments. The authority is the Bundesdenkmalamt or Federal Office
for the Protection of Monuments. This office is a subordinated body to the Federal Ministry for
Education, the Arts and Culture.
The Bundesdenkmalamt (BDA) has a long history dating back to 1850, however, this former
so called commission was at the beginning not an authority but rather a scientific
organization. This changed when the first heritage laws were enacted: 1918: export
regulations, 1923: heritage protection law (Denkmalschutzgesetz).
The present organizational structure foresees a president as head of the office. Then there
are three pillars: the expert section, the regional section with offices in the nine Austrian
states, and the administrative section. Concerning archaeology there is a department for
archaeology within the BDA with one archaeologist working in each regional office. In the
Bundesdenkmalamt in general c. 200 persons are employed.
The scope of activities of the BDA is manifold:
The main function is that of a public authority: This means that the BDA issues licenses for
excavations and prospections as well as for the export of objects. It protects sites or movable
objects by an administrative decision. The BDA also is responsible for the registration of
monuments and keeps an inventory. Furthermore all archaeological finds have to be reported
to the BDA. These official tasks are exclusive competences of the BDA. No other institution in
Austria can do this.
Other important fields of activity are research, maintenance and funding. Due to their
expertise the archaeologists of the BDA also support other authorities or institutions. Here
especially the environmental impact assessment should be mentioned. Finally, the BDA
organizes a lot of events and exhibitions that should raise awareness for cultural heritage.
Beside the authorities BDA and Ministry there is also an advisory board (Denkmalbeirat),
which supports the BDA and the Minister. Other actors are the archaeologists employed by
the individual Austrian states as well as the Austrian Archaeological Institute, the universities
and the Austrian Academy of Sciences.
The quality control for archaeology is done by the BDA, which issues licenses for all
excavations and also field research. All reports regarding archaeological finds as well as
reports on excavations have to be submitted to the BDA, which therefore is the biggest
archive for archaeological knowledge. In 2011 guidelines for excavations and other
archaeological measures were published by the BDA. These guidelines should ensure
transparency for applicants but also a high standard for archaeological excavations and other
measures. The BDA itself is controlled by the Federal Ministry.
Legal framework
Legal basis for the protection of archaeological monuments is the Federal Law for the
Protection of Monuments, which was enacted in 1923, however amended several times. This
law contains provisions for the protection of archaeological monuments. It protects them
against destruction or illicit export. There are special provisions for archaeological finds and
archaeological excavations.
In Austria archaeological finds belong to the finder and the landowner together. There are no
treasure trove provisions in Austria. The law also contains sanctions for illicit excavations,
destruction, illicit export and so on. However, most of the offences are punished by
administrative fines only and are no criminal offences.
There is no legal definition what should be considered as an archaeological site, however,
archaeological remains – movable and immovable – are covered by the term “monument”.
Monuments are objects – movable and immovable – made by man and they have to be of
historic, artistic and/or cultural significance. Archaeological finds are defined as monuments
found under the earth or water – so underwater archaeology is included.
What is problematic with this definition of a monument is the fact, that only objects made by
man can be protected, paleontological objects are no monuments. Also larger sites cannot be
protected easily. Only well-defined areas where it is proven that monuments exist can be
protected. For the protection of a site an administrative decision of the BDA is necessary.
Concerning movable objects the situation is a bit different, because objects owned by the
church or public institutions are automatically protected, also archaeological finds which are
not reported to the BDA.
The archaeological
Facts and Figures
- Number and form of archaeological operators:
Presently there are c. 130 archaeological operators at work in Austria. The number of
excavations carried out directly by the Federal Office for the Protection of Monuments
(Bundesdenkmalamt, BDA) is decreasing rapidly (still 28% in 2011). Many operators are
organised as firms (limited companies, ranging from one-man-businesses to larger
enterprises) but also some private societies and associations as well as State museums play
a role in carrying out heritage management measures. The archaeological departments of the
universities, the Academy of Sciences and the Austrian Archaeological Institute are almost
exclusively involved in research excavations.
-Yearly costs spent on archaeology:
There are no records on how much money is spent on archaeology nationwide. This is due to
the large part of private funding coming from developers and paid directly to the operators.
The BDA subsidises a number of projects with a total sum of approx. one million Euro per
- Rate of unemployment:
There are no records concerning archaeologists’ unemployment.
- Number of field evaluations per year:
Surveys and reports for regional development and local area zoning as well as large scale
environmental impact assessments are a growing aspect of archaeological heritage
management in Austria. A total of 2284 assessments were written in 2011.
- Number of planning licenses which affect archaeological heritage and number of
excavations per year:
A total of 534 excavations and prospections took place in 2011. Doubtlessly, the number of
development projects that would potentially affect archaeology is quite higher. However, only
the measures (mainly rescue excavations) that have actually been carried out are
- Describe the administrative System related to archaeological work.
Anyone planning on carrying out an excavation or prospection (from rescue operation to
research project) must submit an application form describing the location of the site and the
extent of the intended work. If no objections arise, the BDA will issue a permit in the form of
an official notification made out to an individual (not an institution). Ideally, one of the nine
regional supervisors (one per State) will oversee and visit the excavation while it is in
progress. Three months after the activity has ended a copy of all the collected documentation
(digital and on paper) as well as two kinds of reports (for publishing and archiving) must be
handed in to the BDA.
- What is the estimated extent of the backlog in the processing of the excavated material and
its publication?
Naturally, the majority of finds and documentation cannot be analysed scientifically within a
narrow time frame. Since 2010 a system of basic evaluation of the incoming data by the
regional supervisors has been in operation. The finds archives of the Federal Office for the
Protection of Monuments hold c. 20.000 boxes/units at the moment.
- What are the sources for financing archaeological surveys in general? In case of preventive
or development led excavations does the ‘polluter pay’?
While there is no legislation for the policy ‘polluter pays’, it has become common practise and
makes up the greater part of funding for archaeological work. Federal subsidies are often
able to fend off the high costs for non-commercial developers or private land owners.
- Do you have contract archaeology? What are the advantages and disadvantages of this
Since the course of the BDA’s internal reorientation in the last years Austrian archaeology
relies heavily on archaeological firms to carry out the actual field work. A recent questionnaire
among all the involved professionals has shown that the quality of the work and its results is
believed to have increased, but so have the costs that polluters or contractors need to face.
- Do you have sufficient financial sources for managing archaeological heritage and
protecting it in the long term?
The assignation of an archaeological site as a protected monument is a legal process with
few immediate costs. However the ideal case of the state or community purchasing the land
plot – thus ensuring a long-term preservation – has come into effect only on a few occasions.
There is no regular budget for these procedures.
Present challenges (results, problems)
- In the next years a re-evaluation of archaeological monuments should start based on new
standards and criteria enabling the authorities to establish a better system of protecting
archaeological heritage and declaring monuments.