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Conceptual changes in Albanian archaeology.

The transition from dictatorship to democracy in Albania, as in the other countries of central Europe, is more than a simple mechanical change from one system to another. The process is a more complex one and it is difficult to make definitive statements about it. It involves not only adjustments to their personal attitudes by individuals but also a radical departure from previous intellectual processes and practices, leading to real freedom of thought in general.

It is still too early to assess to what extent democratic changes in different areas of life have been adopted. For many reasons Albania will have adopted a similar course to that of the other countries of central Europe, but the Albanian situation has certain peculiarities that need not be detailed here. One thing that is clear is that Albanian society, in regaining its democratic and human identity, has created the conditions needed for integration with dignity into the community of European and human cultures.

There can be no doubt that in the field of historical sciences many taboos and hitherto immutable concepts, which resulted in stagnation and a lack of vitality attributable to the nucleus of the totalitarian system, are being rejected. Political totalitarianism is reflected in scientific knowledge. We must now carry out genuine analysis so that we may free our science once and for all from non-scientific totalitarian concepts. This is especially important in the historical sciences, which were more heavily influenced by totalitarian concepts than the natural and physical sciences.

During the second half of the 20th century Albanian archaeology ostensibly underwent considerable development. During that period it was institutionalized as a science and many excavations were carried out and published, the results of which will stand the test of time. The wholly centralized totalitarian state was the exclusive source of funding for excavations and publications, and as such made much of the cult of earlier traditions in order to increase its own glorification.

Archaeological thought in Albania was rigidly forced into an ideological and political straitjacket. As a result science was idealized and politicized, but its practitioners developed a tough metaphysical approach rather than the dialectic required by the system. A study of Albanian archaeological literature shows that this idealization and politicization hindered the application of basic concepts; in many cases there was a mechanical linking of the two approaches, with consequent hybridized results. Concessions had to be made, facts being included which had nothing to do with the basic archaeology, in order to make publication possible. This was a politically unavoidable process, and Albanian scholars should not be blamed for it. They had to adopt it in order to ensure that their material was published and their work could continue.

This ideological and political primacy of the totalitarian state created a paradoxical situation for Albanian archaeologists. Bourgeois and Marxist archaeologies were set up as two opposing entities, with any alternatives suppressed. The fact that science has its own homogeneity and integrity, independent of political factors, was ignored. This outworn stereotype of conflicting cultural ideologies resulted in the creation of a form of xenophobia, another expression of the isolation and autarchy of Albanian economic and social life. Many examples could be cited of professional backwardness in Albanian archaeology, of sterile polemic, and of unwillingness to make use of archaeological data from other parts of the world.

Almost all archaeology teaching and training was centralized in the University of Tirana (where there is, however, still no separate chair of archaeology). The long and short specialist courses have been so few in number that it is impossible to speak of there having been a national programme or policy. Foreign scientific literature coming into Albanian libraries has been sporadic and limited owing to the absence of links with archaeological institutions in the rest of the world. Professional training for the younger generation of Albanian archaeologists has been inadequate and has resulted in delays, which are being addressed at the present time.

The Albanian Institute of Archaeology, which forms part of the Academy of Sciences, despite the good work that it has produced, contains few archaeologists of international standing, apart from a small number who have raised their achievements above the mediocre level of most of their colleagues.

Archaeological work in Albania has concentrated on two subjects: first, the material aspects of the pure Illyrian culture and, secondly, the transition from the Illyrians to the early medieval Albanians. Most work has been orientated round these two poles. There have been important prehistoric discoveries, notably from the Bronze and Iron Ages, and a rich corpus of data has been compiled relating to the proto-urban period. Understanding of the Illyrian city and state in the Hellenistic period has increased, greatly augmenting the information available from ancient historians. Similar advances have been made in knowledge about the Roman period and late antiquity in Illyria. Much material that throws light on the relationship between the Roman and native Illyrian cultures has been collected and fills archaeological stores across the country. In southern Albania underwater exploration has been carried out, yielding much important ceramic evidence.

However, despite this wealth of data, little has been published and few scientific analytical studies have been carried out. This sad fact is a reflection of the absence of a dynamic research policy and of the low professional competence of many Albanian archaeologists.

Since archaeological effort concentrated on the two areas of investigation, there has been little or no attempt to deal with the material remains of cultures that are ethnically distinct from the Albanian culture. The geographical and strategic situation of Albania means that it was for centuries at the crossroads between east and west, between western Europe and Asia Minor, and between the diverse Balkan cultures, and this is richly represented in the country's archaeological heritage.

Albanian archaeology has, however, not concerned itself with this aspect of general European archaeology but has been constrained by political and ideological pressures. The country's archaeological museum stores contain material that is important in demonstrating the connections between the autochthonous Illyrian-Albanian culture with neighbouring cultures, such as those of Greek and Rome, as well as the Slav lands, but which has deliberately never been properly studied. The time is now overdue for the abandonment of this non-scientific concept.

It is essential that Albanian archaeologists should carry out specialist studies in the fields of classical and medieval epigraphy, art and architectural history, and scientific and conceptual techniques now in general use throughout the world. These are required both as a contribution to the new-found freedom of thought and in developing new structural and positivist approaches to the analysis of this material. Albanian archaeology must establish close contacts with the archaeologically advanced countries and with international bodies such as UNESCO, its students must be trained according to the highest international standards, and its libraries must be equipped with recent scientific literature from round the world. By so doing it will be revivified and become integrated into the mainstream of European and international archaeological thought.

Although archaeology is a scientific discipline, it cannot operate in isolation from social and economic developments. The age of democracy in Albania is providing the opportunities for establishing new and constructive relationships with these fields, particularly with ecology and tourism. Albania's abundant cultural resources make for rapid and intensive development. Detailed strategic planning should take archaeology into account when creating the tourist infrastructure. Thus the main archaeological sites in the country, most of which are on the coast, could be interspersed with high-grade tourist developments.

However, this brings us to the major problem: who is going finance archaeological work in Albania in the future? Previously this was entirely the role of the totalitarian state. State financing will doubtless continue, but not as it did before. There will be a need for relationships not only with the state but also with private enterprises and local government institutions, which are empowered to link economic development with archaeological work under the existing legislation. Thus, it would be possible for the districts of Durres or Butrinti to relate archaeological investigations with tourist development.

The Albanian archaeological heritage is suffering greatly at the present time from looting of sites and illicit export of archaeological material. This has been made possible by the lack of judicial protection, the opening up of the country's borders, and a general breakdown of public order. This contraband trade in archaeological and art treasures is catastrophic for the country's cultural heritage. No such problem existed during the totalitarian period, since the country's borders were firmly closed. However, responsibility for the present state of affairs should not be laid at the door of democracy. The need has arisen for a new conceptual approach in order to combat it, not just through Interpol but also by creating respect for the legal protected status of monuments and objects and for the country's cultural values. Modern techniques of protection must be introduced, and at the same time the national conscience and public opinion must be influenced so as to condemn this traffic in our country's heritage.

These are the challenges that confront Albanian archaeologists and society as a whole. The present time is a transitional period, when democracy is still a tender plant and democratic institutions are still in the process of being created. We are confident that these developments, leading to economic and social stability, will bring about a spiritual and material renaissance for archaeology, the worthy discipline that is essential for understanding and appreciating the world's cultural history.
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Author:Miraj, Lida; Zeqo, Moikom
Date:Mar 1, 1993
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