Funding Matters: Archaeology and the Political Economy of the Past in the EU

Research output: Book/ReportBook


The aim of this thesis is to show how Europe is constructed at the intersection between archaeology, money and politics within EU cultural actions. Ever since the 1970s, the European Community has invested money and prestige in the idea of a common cultural heritage for Europe. Alongside symbolic attributes such as the flag and anthem, archaeological sites have been used as rhetorical fuel to create a sense of European belonging, much like in national identity building. As a result, archaeologists and heritage professionals have benefitted from EU funding for restoration of sites, training schools and cooperation projects since 1976.

In order to address this mutual engagement, the research in this thesis explores the ways that EU grant systems in culture have fostered specific approaches to Europeanness, and how supported projects have responded to notions about a common heritage. By considering EU officials, expert reviewers, consultants and archaeologists as co-creators of the frameworks they participate in, this study raises the idea of financial ties as a place of interaction. The study takes an ethnographic approach and uses discourse analysis and tools from Actor-Network Theory. The material consists of observations made during an internship at the European Commission, 41 interviews with different actors, as well as policy documents, budgets and collected information about 160 supported projects with archaeological themes.

This research demonstrates how the expectations linked to archaeology have turned it into both a problem and a promise in the search for a 'usable past' for the EU. On the one hand, archaeology has functioned as an anchor, mooring the notion of a common heritage to something solid. On the other, because of its strong commitment to nationhood, what archaeology claims for its own has often undermined the very idea of a shared European inheritance. Projects benefitting from EU support have taken advantage of the expectations placed upon archaeology to help create a European identity, using buzzwords and 'application poetry' in their proposals. Many projects continuously used EU goals and symbols in their outputs. Sometimes a European past and present was connected by rhetorically tying archaeological periods (such as the Middle Ages and Roman Era) and phenomena (rock art or landscapes) to the EU political project. This link was more manifest in public settings than in academic ones. Taken together, the considerations brought up in this study show that funding matters. The EU strategy of vagueness, in which instructions and evaluation criteria foremost decide the frames but not the content of the projects, has inspired applicants to 'think Europe without thinking.' Once an application is written and submitted, a chain of translations by different actors works to depoliticise the act of constructing Europe. The EU, just as other funding bodies, has become entangled in the political ecology of archaeology. An entanglement which is unavoidable, but which needs to be critically addressed. Funding sources matter for the way we understand both the past and the meaning of archaeology in the present.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationStockholm
PublisherStockholm University
Number of pages332
ISBN (Print)9789176493205
Publication statusPublished - 2016

Publication series

NameStockholm Studies in Archaeology
PublisherDepartment of Archaeology and Classical Studies, Stockholm University
ISSN (Print)0349-4128


  • archaeology
  • Heritage politics
  • political anthropology
  • heritage values
  • European Union
  • cultural policy
  • identity politics
  • heritage policy
  • heritage


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