Archeology versus animal welfare

It’s not easy being a fan of historical and archeological things. Most of the time nice things are being found when constructing roads (as I wrote elsewhere) or houses. Called “rescue archeology”, the detailed excavation takes time that hinders the initial project.

As I wrote earlier on this blog, the construction of new things might spoil entire ancient landscapes. The example I gave was when a wind turbine (in essence a good thing) in England was rejected because of its close proximity to the Duddo stones and their place in the landscape. Sometimes a though decision, and I feel there is no “right” decision.

Here’s another one, as related by the Archaeo News podcast. In Ireland, in the county of Kerry plans were made to create a donkey sanctuary near the Conor Pass. That pass is the highest mountain pass and Ireland and contains dozens of archaeological monuments.


The project from the Dutch “Dierenwelzijn” (Ireland branch) seems very nice in itself. Some details can be read on their website. However, you should know that these donkeys won’t stay in their stable. A Bronze Age cooking pit and a 12km field wall are at risk of erosion, and probably the manure isn’t helping either.

My initial thought when reading the reporting is that there seems to be an administrative error. The shed and connecting roadway are agricultural in nature, and do not need special permission. But someone forgot to check where exactly this shed was going to be constructed. 

In the case of the wind turbine near the Duddo stones, I could partially defend that the renewable energy was more important than some ancient landscape with old stones in it. But here I don’t understand why a troop of donkeys would get priority over an important archeological area. I don’t think the Dierenwelzijn-guys understood either. They acquired a piece of land in an existing (commercial) forest, and probably didn’t know the importance of the area. At least I hope, because if they care more about retired donkeys …

Anyway, egg on the face of the council. Laws and procedures exist to stop this kind of costly mistakes before they begin. Because not only is the place now at risk (the constructed roadway went through an archeological area). The foundation already has started work and is now facing challenges by the county council, who might reverse its own decision. Talk about secure investing … from a foundation who isn’t probably swimming in loads of cash either.

I don’t think a compromise is possible, given the location. So again a sad story where nice, humane things threaten old things past. What, dear reader, is your opinion on this?

About Bruno Van de Casteele

Philosopher by education, IT'er by trade. Allround Armchair Skeptic, History Enthusiast, Father of Three. Twitter @brunovdc Personal website:
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11 Responses to Archeology versus animal welfare

  1. Walter Clark says:

    Those of you, I suspect most of you, who are not of a libertarian bent won’t get this but it is almost religion for us: Not only can anything be valued in money, anything can be money. The magic of the market place is that unrelated things can take on a value relative to each other because there is always some connection even many steps away where value is “compared to something else”. That there is an absolute value of worth assumes a God, or a third party to all transactions playing God. The attractiveness of a painting however can be determined without a God. It is determined by the market finding a value relative to the cost of an insurance policy on a motorcycle even though the same people aren’t buying both. This happens in a time domain as well. The value of gasoline is not just the cost of mining, refining and delivering it. How much is left –which affects the future value– is built into the present price. So too is the present value of any limited resource thing such as an archeological site. Its value relative to a new shopping mall or even something more politically correct such as a wind farm comes down to what people living now assess its value in the future. Is it the one who will do anything for votes? If it is votes, should it be conducted politically where people who have no skin in the game have just as many votes as those who are most keenly concerned such as the entrepreneur who is betting a small fortune that people in the future will have wanted it? Or is it votes in the market place where those without skin in the game have no vote? Is there an entrepreneur for the archeological value to put his bid up against that of the contractor? Yes. Note that the archeologist doesn’t need to own it. He needs to raise only money enough to rent delay in the construction. That is not much money. Museums, universities, and philanthropists receive value by spending money on things like that. The bidding in the market place is how value is assigned if you don’t have a God in charge of value. If the learned professor can’t raise the funds, then maybe the learned professor was wrong about its value. He has to take no for an answer. Instead, the present method, the political method, some people play God, and use “seems right” analysis, or whatever gets him the most votes analysis. In that case the archeologist may or may not have to take no for an answer, but was it really by the people?

    • Bruno Van de Casteele says:

      I’m not a libertarian but that is probably not the reason I don’t understand your rambling … I’m going to take a page out of Walzer’s book (Spheres of Influence) and state that you cannot have the “way of working” from one sphere (commercial market) in other spheres (here science and/or public governance). But if you can value the relation between myself and my kids in monetary value, let me know.

      • Walter Clark says:

        Excellent question. The answer is more common than you think. If I may I’d like to make the question less emotional by talking about a person other than you. To further remove emotion from the explanation, let me remove the child. You do grant me that economic observations about human nature should be from a detached point of view, I presume. The example is that of a person from a country you have no connection with. He bets his life or grave injury on crossing the street, on a risky profession, a dangerous lifestyle, whatever. The premium he pays for an insurance policy is his assessment of his value to himself (or family). He can pay a higher premium if he wants to or a lower one. If you simply divide the premiums by “his understanding” of the risk you get a value, that’s “his” evaluation of his economic value. If he decides not to buy insurance his value is merely not paid for; not demonstrated. It doesn’t mean it is of no value. He still takes risks that take into account how he values his life.
        If you think that is absurd, think about how the government would value a person’s life. Would it spend a million dollars on a medical procedure on someone whose outcome isn’t guaranteed? It would have to consider saving other people’s lives or use some of that money on an archeological dig. It comes down to, who does the triage; politics or a free people? As for spheres of influence, consider that they often overlap. And when they do –when your emotion affects other people’s activities– society must consider economics in both realms.

        • Bruno Van de Casteele says:

          Well, changing the question and then answering it doesn’t really constitute an answer, does it? If you cannot model monetarily that relation, then I’d rather wait until a more valid answer has been found …

  2. Dominick Veresetto says:

    If the property was private, there probably wouldn’t be a problem.

  3. Vere Nekoninda says:

    The aphorism “Act in haste, repent in leisure” applies at several levels to these questions. Lack of careful planning leads to extra costs and delays, and/or extra regrets. Short term expediency frequently has more energy than the long-term view. Yet the value of what has been lost is perceived over time, and is often seen as much greater than the brief advantage of whatever caused the loss. The goal of prudent planning is to try and avoid such cases, analogous to the biblical allusion, admonishing against trading one’s birthright for a a mess of pottage.

  4. Christian says:

    Typo alert: ” Sometimes a though decision”. Anyhow, overall, I think it becomes difficult for the simple reason that the earth has a finite area, and the areas worth inhabiting are reasonably static, and a lot smaller. In Tasmania, a bypass was nearly stopped by deliberately aggressive ‘Aboriginals’ ( none are more than 1/16th Aboriginal ) who claimed that the road was going to ‘destroy’ a small portion of what was essentially an old garbage mound. That they did not complain until work was started ( i.e. when their complaint would cost society the most ), kind of shows their motivation, but political correctness made people scared to say ‘but it’s garbage, and most of it will still be there’ ). So, there’s always a balancing act between different interests, and different value systems. But, overall, I think anything of genuine historical interest should be preserved so long as the cost to society is not prohibitive.

    • Bruno Van de Casteele says:

      Garbage mounds are actually one of the most interesting sources for archeologists!

      • Christian says:

        I have no doubt. But, it seems to me that a huge area that has been used that way, is unlikely to be affected by a small area having a bridge built over it ( so an even smaller area is lost to supports ). My point is mostly that they didn’t complain until the last possible moment ( although they had been consulted ), which goes to show that concerns like this can be manipulated for political ends.

        • Bruno Van de Casteele says:

          That is indeed possible … however sometimes such works get “camouflaged” and people only notice when the bulldozers are there.
          So it is important to have good laws and regulations that allow for sufficient amount of time to be spent on investigating. Moreover, when something is found, and if it is deemed valuable, it can be investigated “in a hurry” and in most countries that is an obligation.

          Of course, if the road simply paves “over” without damaging, it can always be investigated “later”. That is sometimes a good compromise.

          • Christian says:

            Yes, the fundamental issue here was that the stakeholders engineered the situation for maximum disruption and media impact, and did not care about real solutions, probably because they knew that there was nothing really to solve.

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