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Polish archaeology in transition.

A glance at the past

There is no doubt that the condition of archaeological research in Poland before the great political change of 1989 was relatively good. Obviously, the money was not plentiful and there were certain ideological conditions that had to be fulfilled. In the 44 years of the Polish People's Republic many archaeological institutions emerged from nothing. The Institute of the History of Material Culture (IHMC) of the Polish Academy of Sciences (PAS) was founded in 1953 and by 1988 it had over 300 staff members. Archaeological institutes at several universities grew to considerable size: for example, the Institute of Archaeology at the University of Warsaw employs about 70 persons by comparison with a handful in 1939. By the end of 1988 there were around 500 professionals making a living from archaeology. The Ministry of Culture was also often quite generous in funding archaeological rescue work as well as the preparation of the central register of archaeological monuments (Archaeological Picture of Poland).

Ideological pressure was negligible in comparison with that in other social sciences, particularly after 1956. A party card was helpful, but never essential in the career, at least to the level of professorship. There was never complete freedom to travel abroad and at the time of martial law it was seriously restricted. Direct political interventions by the authorities were rare, but they did take place from time to time. A recent one was that triggered by Peter Ucko, who persuaded the Polish Embassy in London to seek help in the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs to force the then IHMC director to send a representative to the 1986 World Archaeological Congress in Southampton.

Access to world archaeological literature was not too easy, particularly for small institutions that lacked funds and publications for exchange. On the other hand, archaeological establishments with large outputs of their own publications exchanged them for foreign literature. In this way IHMC has built up an archaeological library that is among the best in Europe. In short, the isolation of Polish archaeology was never complete, although access to foreign publications and travel abroad sometimes might have been difficult.

General structural changes in the management of science

Archaeology represents only a small fraction of an extensive array of scientific disciplines practised in Poland. Most of the problems, therefore, that archaeology is facing are common to the entire scientific world. A few are specific only to archaeology. There are two major factors that affect science in today's Poland.

The first is common in some parts of the world: lack of money caused by shrinking government funds earmarked for science. In recent years the money set aside for science in the central budget plummeted from 1.43% of GNP in 1990 to c. 0.7% of GNP in 1992. This does not include the expenditure reserved for universities in the budget of the Ministry of Education, and the funding of museums, either by the Ministry of Culture or local governments.

The second reason is very specific and reflects changes in the regulations concerning the management of science, education and national heritage. Many amendments to older legislation and new laws are reminiscent of their Western counterparts.

Perhaps the most radical shift in the management of science came with the public law creating the State Committee for Scientific Research passed by the Sejm (Parliament) on 12 January 1991. The State Committee for Scientific Research (SCSR) is by law the sole distributor of funds allotted for science in the state budget voted by the Sejm. It includes 58 members (mostly professors) elected by nationwide ballots, five Ministers (Education, Finance, Industry, Environment, Natural Resources and Forests) and seven representatives of local governments and industrial enterprises. The President of SCSR is appointed by the Sejm and its Secretary by the Prime Minister. It is subdivided into two Commissions (Basic and Applied Sciences), each composed of several specialized groups (sub-commissions). Archaeology comes under the Group for Social and Humanistic Sciences (P-1).

The SCSR subdivides its funds under several headings of which the most important for archaeology are three: statutory activity of institutes; grants; supporting funds (e.g. for scientific information, publication of research, libraries, etc.). Allocation of money for statutory activity takes into account the scientific ranking of the institution. There are four categories: category A comprises institutions of international standing while in group B are the institutions of high national standing. The process of ranking is technically complex and takes place each autumn. The highest level of financing goes to category A institutions.

Management of the historical and archaeological heritage was seriously affected by the recent amendment of the Antiquities and Museums Act (19 July 1990). The bill for the first time created a State Service of Antiquities (SSA). The SSA reports directly to the General Commissioner of Antiquities in the Ministry of Culture. Offices of SSA are present in each of the 49 Departments (Voievodedom). Each office employs an archaeological inspector or contains an archaeological section with several archaeologists. The SSA replaced the Departmental Commissioners for Antiquities who were employed by local Voievode.

Structural changes in the management of science are perhaps the most dramatic, but not the only ones. A general democratization of social and political life resulted in deregulation in the management of scientific institutions. The level of freedom that directors enjoy varies according to the Ministry to which the institution is affiliated. It is, however, always much larger than it was before 1989. The effects of the structural and political changes on archaeological institutions differ considerably depending on their affiliation. Let us review a few examples of changes.

Polish Academy of Sciences

There are two archaeological institutions in the Polish Academy of Sciences; both are within the 1st Branch (Humanities) of the Academy. The larger is the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnology (IAE: formerly Institute of the History of Material Culture). Research in the Institute includes Polish, European, African and American archaeology, ethnology, the history of material culture and technology and socio-economic history. The Institute has its main base in Warsaw and branches in Krakow, Wroclaw, Poznan, Lodz and laboratories in Szczecin, Gdansk, Wolin, Kalisz and Igolomia (near Krakow). The Department of Mediterranean Archaeology is a much smaller institution. It concentrates its research on the classical and medieval archaeology of the Near East, Egypt, Cyprus and the Sudan.

The institutes of the Polish Academy of Sciences came into the new market at the beginning of 1991 when the new system of financing scientific research was introduced and competition for funds became real. In the ranking exercise which began in autumn 1990, the IAE was awarded Category A, along with generous funds for its statutory activities in 1991. However, the budgetary deficit of the Government reduced this to around 70% of the original figure. The money was gradually transferred directly to the bank account of the Institute from SCSR. A much smaller fund, the Technical Supporting Fund, was awarded to the Institute by the Polish Academy of Sciences. The Academy also received funds from SCSR.

It soon became apparent that the management of money and research in the Institute had to change immediately. Technically, it was not very difficult because the Director had almost total freedom in using the funds from the two grants. First, a system of internal grants and peer review of projects was introduced. Grants were awarded for field research (c. 25 in the 1991 season), publishing, travel and cooperation with foreign institutions.

The Institute's publishing was also deregulated. Until 1990 the Director and Scientific Council had nominated and the Secretary of the Branch appointed editors of ten journals and four monograph series published by the Institute. Since 1990, the editors have been selected by the Scientific Council on the basis of internal open competition. The new editors are allocated specific sums of money and complete freedom in selecting the printing house, etc. Royalty payments have ceased; instead the editors receive stipends proportional to the size of volume.

Before 1989, the Office of Publication of the Academy of Sciences set the limits of publications for every Institute and paid the bills. Only two state publishers were considered: Ossolineum and the State Scientific Publishers. Technical editing was done in the offices of publishing houses and the whole process of getting a book printed often took up to three years. Today, many small private printing establishments ensure rapid publication based on electronic page setting: a book is often out in three months. The quality of production has at the same time reached levels comparable with that in the west. In 1991 and early 1992 the Institute published 22 books and 22 volumes of its journals under the new system. A recently created electronic typesetting office will further lower the costs of publications.

A new source of money for individual and group projects opened up with the establishment of the SCSR grants fund. Projects are assessed twice a year. In the last session only projects that obtained eight points in a ten-point scale were considered for financing. The scientists in the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnology won five grants equivalent to c. $400,000.

With less money earmarked for science in the central budget, financing of the institutes became very difficult: even category A institutions were hurt. On the other hand, the relatively greater freedom of management of the institutes opened up some new sources of income. IAE rents rooms to various firms, charges for guarded parking lots, runs occasional trucking services, and provides hotel space in its guest rooms if they are not occupied by visiting scientists. The Institute also charges an overhead of 20% on all individual grants and contracts channelled through it. Nevertheless, income resulting from these extracurricular activities amounts to no more than 10% of the budget.

In spite of these various sources of income and the rather low staff salaries, IAE began to reduce its personnel in 1990 in anticipation of forthcoming financial difficulties. In the first two years this was a natural wastage process; the total numbers went down from 296 fully employed workers in 1989 to 260 after 1990. Unfortunately, this natural process was not enough. It became necessary to start the legal process of group redundancies that would reduce the staff to around 200 by the end of 1992. It seems likely that the IAE will stabilize at around 190 persons.

Political changes resulted in alterations of laws regulating the ways in which the directors and scientific councils of the institutes are appointed. Members of scientific councils are now elected for three-year terms and appointed by the Secretary of the Branch. Directors, on the other hand, are nominated by scientific councils following nationwide competition and appointed by the Vice President of the Academy.

The change of the name of the Institute that took place in April 1992 also reflects the political evolution of recent years. It is common knowledge that the former name of the Institute, given to it when it was founded in 1953, was a direct copy of the sister institution in the Academy of Sciences of the USSR. The name of the Institute of the History of Material Culture in the Soviet Union was abandoned in the late 1950s when the institute split in two separate institutions, the Institute of Archaeology and the Institute of Ethnography. The rearrangement had been a direct result of Stalin's critique of N.J. Marr, the founder of the State Institute for the History of Material Culture.

The new name of the Polish institute is not only appropriate to the major disciplines practised in the Institute, but it has also a practical value. In spite of almost 40 years of activity, the name of the Institute of the History of Material Culture remained largely unknown to its sponsors, the public, and so gave rise to questions about the type of research it was conducting.


The financial situation of the Polish universities is difficult and uncertain. Several schools began to abolish posts, starting with technical personnel (e.g. at Poznan), the others are expecting redundancies among junior staff. The evolution in the programmes and management of archaeological institutes at universities is very diverse. Perhaps the biggest change came about at the Institute of Archaeology of Warsaw University with the election of new young directors (Professor Mikocki and Dr Bursche).

The main changes concern the enrichment of curricula, open enrolment, new systems of internal grading of lecturers and professors, the introduction of tutorial guidance for students, and increased cooperation with other archaeological institutions. Other changes in teaching archaeology result from a general evolution in university programmes. For instance,the system of credit points was introduced for the first time in Poland at the Jagiellonian University, in Krakow.

One of the biggest problem that the archeological institutes at Polish universities face is funding for fieldwork and publishing. Until now, universities have paid the stipends to students participating in the field schools that were a part of curriculum. This permitted maintenance of excavations at major sites worked by university teachers. Today, most of the schools cannot afford the field school stipend.

Museums and Antiquities Service

Of the museums, only the State Archaeological Museum in Warsaw is fully supported by the Ministry of Culture. A very sharp drop in the budget of the Ministry will reflect upon the Museum's ability to conduct field researches and employ a somewhat large staff.

Other museums are financed by local governments and so their financial situations vary accordingly to the local policy for supporting cultural institutions. The oldest Polish archaeological museum, in Poznan, is still in good condition. Last April the Museum, with the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnology, PAS, and the Archaeological Commission of the Poznan Branch of PAS, organized a large conference on 'Archaeology facing the market economy'.

The new legislation gives local governments maximum freedom to create their own budgets. In previous years budgets for cultural activity were drawn up by the Ministry of Culture and then allocated to departmental governments, which had to follow the subdivision of the fund. Sums earmarked for monument protection were included in the budgets as separate headings. Today, the money awarded by the Ministry is simply sent to Voievodeships, where local governments channel it to the projects they consider to be important. These are rarely for protection of monuments or salvaging of archaeological sites.

The Polish law on the protection of antiquities lacks a clause obliging those bodies whose projects could impact archaeological sites to pay for rescue work. Theoretically, only scheduled monuments are adequately protected because special permits for any alteration at such sites must be granted by local commissioners of antiquities. Rescue excavations are always an essential condition for the issue of such permits. Small companies and individuals often cannot afford the costs of rescue excavations. That is why the independent budgets for monument protection in the State Service of Antiquities are so important.

The State Company for Conservation of Monuments (PP.PKZ)

PP.PKZ, a large state company, specialized in conservation and restoration of historical monuments. Semi-independent Laboratories for Preservation of Archaeological Monuments were organized in almost all of its regional branches. The laboratories specialized in preservation of archaeological sites and rescue excavations, usually under profitable contracts. They also conducted non-profit archaeological research.

Enormous economic changes in the financing of preservation of monuments and lack of state money for rescue archaeology generated fundamental changes in the company, which entirely re-arranged its structure. In most of the provincial branches the Archaeological laboratories were dissolved.

Only in the former Gdansk branch has a specialized Laboratory for the Archaeology of Towns been preserved. The Laboratory, headed by Tadeusz Nawrolski, is engaged solely in rescue operations in the old Hanseatic town of Elblag in northern Poland.

Skeleton archaeology staffs also remain at the former PKZ branches in Tarnow and Szcecin; in other towns, the archaeologists were dispersed. Some tried to start private companies, but usually without success. The most successful of those is the Warsaw Archaeological Laboratory managed by Martyna Milewska, who employs two persons.


The Polish archaeology of the future has just begun its adventure with a system ruled by the free market economy. The experience of the pre-World War II period has been completely forgotten. Moreover, managing an archaeological institution today is a completely different experience from that of pre-1939. Usually, good managers are required as directors rather than outstanding scientists.

In my opinion the future of archaeology in Poland is not a bleak one. We are undeniably moving rapidly toward a world in which competition is the watchword, but that is not necessarily bad in itself: there are also several bright sides to this world.
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Author:Schild, Romuald
Date:Mar 1, 1993
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