French Compromise Over "Rescue Archaeology"

PARIS--After nearly 30 years of skirmishes among developers, archaeologists, and government officials, France has taken a big step toward regulating "rescue archaeology," the excavation of ancient remains threatened by development projects. Culture minister Catherine Trautman last week unveiled a plan to end what she calls the "quasi-permanent crisis" by creating a new agency to oversee such projects.

Last year, archaeologists went on strike to derail a plan to open rescue archaeology to competitive bidding, saying it would damage research (Science, 16 October 1998, p. 407). But now, scientists are mostly welcoming a proposal to replace a semiprivate archaeological contracting agency with a public entity under the culture and research ministries. Plans to involve government and academic researchers in projects are an "affirmation that rescue archaeology is a scientific activity and a public service," says Françoise Audouze of the Center for Archaeological Research in Nanterre.

But one archaeologists' union is unhappy with a complicated formula that will exempt small developers from paying for digs. It is calling for changes before the government presents the plan to Parliament this fall.

Posted in Archaeology, Paleontology, Europe