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Funding cuts: North-Rhine Westphalia's unique cultural heritage is under threat

The name North-Rhine Westphalia (NRW) makes one think of the Neandertal, of Xanten with its Roman heritage or of the cathedrals of Aachen and Cologne, both UNESCO world heritage sites. As NRW is the most populous state in Germany archaeological sites here are facing particularly serious threats. The State of North-Rhine Westphalia wants to stop funding archaeology completely by 2015 and has already made drastic funding cuts for 2013.

Reconstructed Neanderthal

When archaeologists hear the name North-Rhine Westphalia they think of the Neandertal, or the Neander valley, which gave its name to the humanoid species found there – and expansive regions of fertile loess which have been used as farmland ever since the linear pottery culture. They think of Cologne and Xanten, both important centres in Roman times, and of the military camps along the River Lippe; all of these bear witness to the unsuccessful Roman subjugation of Central Europe. The cathedrals of Aachen and Cologne are UNESCO world heritage sites and famous monuments to Christianity, which grew in strength here during the Carolingian era; the Carolingian abbey at Corvey was nominated for inclusion in the list of world heritage sites in 2012.

Nowadays, North-Rhine Westphalia (NRW) is the most populous state in Germany and has the strongest economy. The intensive building projects which go hand-in-hand with economic success mean archaeological sites here are facing particularly serious threats, and not only in the towns and cities; the large-scale opencast lignite mining and the sand and gravel pits on the Lower Rhine also are areas where loss and destruction could be particularly severe.

Treasure trove law, the polluter pays principle and cuts in the funding for archaeology
The Government of NRW elected in 2012 is doing a great deal for archaeology: it is preparing a better law for the preservation of historic buildings and monuments which is intended to introduce the treasure trove law and the polluter pays principle. The treasure trove law determines that chance finds of archaeological or historical significance where no owner can be established belong to the state and are not - as is still the case at present - split equally between the finder and the landowner. According to the polluter pays principle, investors whose investments - usually building activities - endanger archaeological monuments must bear the costs for the excavations which are then necessary.

The problem is that, at the same time as it improved the legislation, which brings it in line with European standards, the new Government resolved to make swingeing cuts in their share of the funding for archaeology. In North-Rhine Westphalia this will have particularly serious negative consequences, and at the same time, the State’s importance within Germany would mean it was setting a – bad – example for other federal states. This situation has prompted the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Ur- und Frühgeschichte e.V. (German Society for Pre- and Protohistory) (DGUF) to oppose the funding cuts with an open petition. The petition started on 24 March and ended on 23 June 2013.

The largest collection of signatures ever
More than 27,000 people signed the petition, including over 1,800 from abroad - all five continents were represented. This petition is thus the largest collection of signatures ever against cuts in the budget for the preservation of historic monuments in Germany. It was handed over to Carina Gödecke (SPD), President of the NRW Parliament, and Michael Groschek (SPD), Minister for Building, Housing, City Development and Transport on 25 June 2013. See more in our press release. [PDF]

Here you can find a word-for-word translation of the petition:

Petition: Revoke the planned cuts in federal state funding for archaeology and the preservation of historic buildings and monuments!

Original German title: "Angekündigte Streichung der Landeszuschüsse für die Archäologie und Denkmalpflege zurücknehmen!"
From: Deutsche Gesellschaft für Ur- und Frühgeschichte e.V. (Kerpen-Loogh)
To: The Government and Parliament of North-Rhine Westphalia

To the Government of North-Rhine Westphalia: Revoke the planned cuts in federal state funding for archaeology and the preservation of historic buildings and monuments!

What is going to happen?
The State of North-Rhine Westphalia (NRW) wants to stop funding archaeology completely by 2015 and has already made drastic funding cuts for 2013.

How has archaeology been funded until now?
In NRW archaeology / the preservation of archaeological heritage sites is funded by the two big local authorities in the Rhineland (LVR) and Westphalia (LWL), and the city of Cologne takes care of its own area. To date, half the costs for the excavations and the subsequent maintenance have been borne by the local funding providers (LVR, LWL and the city of Cologne), the other half by the State of NRW. North-Rhine Westphalia has previously provided just under 12 million euros of funding per year.

What’s at issue here?

The new Government in NRW unexpectedly made drastic cuts to this federal state funding for 2013, reducing it to 10 million euros. In 2014 only 3.3 million euros will be available, and in 2015 the State of NRW wants to withdraw completely from the co-funding of archaeology. It goes without saying that it is impossible for the local authorities and the city of Cologne to compensate for these cuts. For many sites of archaeological interest this means undocumented destruction, because there is no money for the necessary salvage excavations and their documentation. The local authorities will not have the money to conserve and restore the finds properly. At best the finds and excavation files will disappear into the archives, because there will be no money to prepare the findings for the public and put them on display in museums. It will also be impossible to continue the renovation of many listed buildings, the historical architectural fabric in many cities would be endangered.

Our cultural heritage is at risk
The protection and preservation of cultural artefacts is the responsibility of society as a whole, it is a statutory duty. The State therefore has a special duty of care. In our federal system it is the federal states which bear this responsibility. Transferring responsibilities from federal state to local authority level, without at the same time providing the necessary funding, is irresponsible. But how credible is a “public interest” when a federal state government no longer wants to spend a single cent on it? The most populous state in Germany with considerable economic power, numerous building projects and dynamic development is sending a disastrous signal if it sneaks away from its responsibility to preserve and protect its archaeological heritage sites. The archaeological archive under our feet bears witness to the history and culture we share, it is a valuable community asset. In NRW it is a location factor with economic relevance via the museums, tourism and as part of the identity and quality of life.

This is because cuts would have dramatic consequences
Scientists and cultural experts all over Germany speak with one voice: all leading archaeologists in NRW have pointed out the dramatic consequences of the planned cuts. The Association of Federal State Archaeologists of the Federal Republic of Germany requests that the cuts be revoked. Bernd Neumann, the Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and the Media, called the cuts a “declaration of bankruptcy for the cultural policy”. Gudrun Kopp, MP from East-Westphalia-Lippe and Parliamentary Secretary to the Federal Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development, says: “This would be the end for the preservation of historic buildings and monuments and a crime against the history of our region.”

The petition of the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Ur- und Frühgeschichte e. V. (DGUF)

We request that the Government of NRW revokes the funding cuts for archaeology and the preservation of historic buildings and monuments which have already been implemented for 2013 and are planned for the future. We appeal to all parliamentary groups and Members of the NRW State Parliament to shoulder their responsibility and correct the course of the Federal State Government. We request that the politicians in the NRW Parliament sit down again with the experts – including the DGUF - and make use of their specialist advice to consider better alternatives.

We ask those of you who are committed to North-Rhine Westphalia and interested in its history and culture to express your support for this petition by adding your signature!

signed the DGUF (for the Management Board and the Advisory Council: Rengert Elburg, Diane Scherzler M.A., Dr. Erich Claßen, Dr. Frank Siegmund, Dr. Gerhard Ermischer)

Deutsche Gesellschaft für Ur- und Frühgeschichte e.V. (DGUF) is Germany’s largest national association working in the field of primeval and early history which brings together both people interested in archaeology and scientists.


On behalf of all the signatories

Kerpen-Loogh, 24 March 2013 (active until 23 June 2013)

Where to find the petition
Petition "Angekündigte Streichung der Landeszuschüsse für die Archäologie und Denkmalpflege zurücknehmen!" [go to the petition (in German)]

Urgeschichte, Vorgeschichte und andere Archäologien: Eine Begriffsklärung
Das Fach, um das es der DGUF geht, wird mit unterschiedlichen Begriffen bezeichnet.
Hinter dem bekannten, scheinbar einfachen Begriff "Archäologie" verbergen sich viele unterschiedliche Archäologien. mehr

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