On the evaluation of sites and monuments - and information
Evaluation, valorisation, appraisal and related judgments of archaeological and other sites and monuments is a tricky question. The Finnish National Board of Antiquities and Archaeology, University of Helsinki organises right now a two day workshop on the topic in Helsinki. I was unfortunately able to participate in the event only during the first day, but it was still both intriguing and enlightening to listen to the presentations and participate in the discussion later during the afternoon.
It is obvious that sites and monuments need to be evaluated, or appraised for their 'value' -- whatever it is. Even if the different presenters and discussions discussed the issue of value from a diversity of perspectives -- which is apparently one of the significant issues of the problematic topic, there was no doubt that value and appraisal are questions that are very much under debate. The scholarly, societal (from an administrative perspective) and heritage (a personal or community point of view) value and evaluation of a single site or monument can be very different, and the 'actual' value of a particular site is more or less an aggregate of a number of factors, or more precisely values that are argued by different actors: archaeologists, cultural heritage administrators, the general public and, for instance, advocates of alternative archaeologies. As Mikko Härö, noted in the first presentation of the day, all seeking and use of (archaeological) information is (or perhaps becomes) an act of evaluation. This does not apply only to the acts of experts, but naturally to the information activities of all of us who interact with a site or monument.
A second general observation I made during the presentations and discussions was the relevant problematisation and pluralisation of the notions of evaluation and value. Value can be defined by many different actors and the notion of value itself is highly equivocal. At the same time, however, the notions of information and knowledge (both covered more or less by the Finnish term "tieto") were taken largely granted. It is important to have enough high-quality information. If the value and evaluation of a site or monument is a matter of debate and there can be multiple values for a single site, there are also multiples types of 'informations' on the same thing. Different typesof judgments are based on different types of information and different amounts of information are enough for different conclusions. The quality and enough'ness of information depend on the type of an individual evaluative claim. And, yes, this is precisely one reason why the management of 'archaeological information' is so difficult in practice. If all information use is evaluative, all evaluations lead to more or less different information on the same site or monument.