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The "Archeological Investigator" Challenge
- New qualifications open the future of archeology -

Ryuzaburo Takahashi
Professor, Faculty of Letters, Arts and Sciences, Waseda University

In 2007, Waseda University was chosen by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) for their "educational program fitted to the relearning needs of working adults" project. As a result, we began the "Buried Cultural Properties Practical Science Program for the Training and Certification of Buried Cultural Properties Investigators (Archeological Investigators)." The project plan is for three years.

The project is structured in this way: Those individuals who engage in the excavation and investigation of ruins are invited to the university to take courses in various subjects, and, upon their completion of half a year of dedicated archeology courses, they are certified as "Archeological Investigators." Through these classes, we have them study new subjects such as "The Preservation and Practical Use of Buried Cultural Properties" and "The Administration of Cultural Property," with the goal of further enhancing their sense of compliance.

Excavation Techniques that Protect National Properties

Currently, there are about 7000 people nation-wide engaged in the archeological investigation of buried cultural properties. Many of those who participate in the business of archeological investigation are affiliated with prefectural or municipal buried cultural property centers or ruin investigation societies; however, in recent years, there have also been many who plan and participate in excavation investigations while affiliated with civilian investigative organizations.

The state of the Kaizuka excavation in Chiba and Tonouchi

Under the Law for the Protection of Cultural Properties, buried cultural properties are designated "national community property." If there are well-known ruins in the area, it has been administratively agreed upon that, prior to the construction of a road, airport, hospital, school or any other public facility, an excavational inspection of the ruins will be carried out without fail. Similarly in civilian discoveries, under the principle that the burden falls on the originator, excavational inspection is executed through the use of private capital.

Every year, nation-wide, close to 10,000 incidents of excavational investigation are performed, and approximately 80 billion yen expended. In the 1990s, when discovery in the Japanese Archipelago reached its peak, a little more than 12,000 excavational investigations were performed, and the enormous amount of 130 billion yen was expended. At that time, an investigational system that mirrored the strong economic growth was put together, and many of the excavational investigators were employed by it. After the bubble burst, things slowed slightly, but even so, it is a market with traffic of several billion yen a year. It is calculated that, from the 1960s until the present, approximately 3 trillion yen have been expended in total.

Since specialized skills and knowledge are necessary in the excavational inspection of ruins, many of those who find employment in the field are students who have taken classes and graduated in archeology at university or at graduate school. By "specialized excavational skills," I mean the technique of accurately grasping remains and relics, the technique of accurate excavation, and the technique of keeping a precise record, and polished skills are sought-after. In that sense, the skills are like those of a craftsman. Clearly, excavational investigation is one type of destructive action, no matter how excellent the techniques used in that excavation are. It is precisely because things can never be returned to the way they were that excavational inspection demands a high level of skill. In addition, the direction and supervising of such tasks is a job for an expert craftsman affiliated with an educational committee or similar, and the investigation's success is tied directly to their level of skill.

Excavational Investigation Without Specialist Qualifications

Shita-Totsuka Ruins found on the property of Waseda University Center for Scholarly Information (Central Library)

Now, if I were to say that both the people engaged in these excavational inspections and those who directed and supervised them had performed these investigations without any qualifications whatsoever, I am sure there are those who would be startled. On the other hand, though, that bears witness to the amount of trust they've attracted until now.

However, society in general exists in a world where, in every industry, one is authorized by one's qualifications. If those who engage in the field of buried cultural property use the citizen's hard-earned tax money to excavate "national community property" while holding no qualifications whatsoever, there will surely be many who hold doubts about the system.

Here we have a system where the investigation of buried cultural properties is performed while those performing it receive financial backing from society, and what has become a problem in recent years is the issue of the rate of specialists.

By "rate of specialists," I mean the proportion of people among those involved with the excavational investigation business who have received specialist-level training in the field of archeology and similar at university. In the totals from 2005, even among prefectural and municipal buried cultural property investigational engines, that number stood at approximately 74 percent. This means that non-specialists occupied the remaining 26 percent. In addition, the distribution ratio of specialists carrying out municipal direction and supervision was only slightly over 50 percent, which shows that almost half of all municipalities are unable to conduct investigations on their own.

Among those non-specialists, there are many who were attracted to excavational investigation, and, while they had no archeological specialization or major in their backgrounds, learned their skills well and gained their current employment through on-site learning at excavations.

However, a larger problem is that, in the recruitment of new employees for buried cultural property at buried cultural properties centers and similar, teaching credentials and curator credentials continue to hold importance as prerequisite qualifications, while archeological investigator credentials are not asked for. This is simply because, until now, archeological investigator credentials did not exist, and so alternative credentials were asked for as a result.

On a prefectural scale, it isn't rare for teachers with absolutely no archeological knowledge or skills to be sent to excavational sites, in addition to archeology specialists. Among them, there are probably many individuals who, in their student years, studied and were hired on as teachers in other specialty fields, and who had no thoughts of being transferred to a buried cultural properties excavational investigation, and others who find it illogical that they are being made to engage in this sort of excavational investigation, of which they know nothing. Therein lies one reason behind the decline in the rate of specialists. I believe this makes it quite clear that there is a problem in the investigational system.

Certifying Working Adults via a Certification Structure

The course for adults which Waseda University has established is divided into three types, in proportion to the skills already possessed: (1) a career advancement course, (2) a recurrent course, and (3) a management course. If they study the set classes and earn the credits, the conditions are in place for them to earn Level 2, Level 1 and Advanced archeological investigator credentials. The "Archeological Investigator Credentials Certification Structure," established outside of Waseda University, performs reviews of the granting of credentials, and grants the credentials themselves. Even the place for the certification structure's construction was a task entrusted to Waseda University.

Actually, this sort of archeological certification has a prior history of being argued over. However, due to this and that, it was halted. This time it is business entrusted to us by MEXT, and we are able to allot funds for the course planning, the system structure, and similar. At present, I think it safe to say that we are in a very blessed environment.

Various Hoped-for Advantages

It's certain that the establishment of Archeological Investigator credentials and formal rankings has advantages, several of which are as follows:

  1. The transparency of the system of buried cultural properties investigation will increase, and the skills and knowledge of investigation supervisors will be guaranteed by their credentials.
  2. I believe we will be able to fulfill our duty of accountability to society.
  3. The positions of supervisors of practical work (specialist personnel) will become more solid than they have conventionally been inside the government offices with which they are affiliated.
  4. When hiring a specialist in buried cultural properties as new personnel, clear standards are set, and it is possible to carry out transparent human resource practices.
  5. Human resources will be able to secure certified specialist personnel, and we can hope for this to have the effect of forcing up the specialist personnel distribution ratio.
  6. As far as hiring requirements in the field of buried cultural property investigation are concerned, it will be possible to replace the conventional teaching or curator certification with archeological investigator certification.
  7. It will provide good encouragement for those active on the front lines of buried cultural property investigation.
  8. For those who have not necessarily had specialist education, having equal authorization for their skills and knowledge due to this certification will be good encouragement.
Also Popular Among Current Students; Participation of Many Universities Hoped for

Excavation has a calling to protect national properties.

Although this program has taken adults as its focus, we are able to grant equal credentials to college and graduate students. As a course of study for students, the university course corresponds to Level 2 certification, and the graduate school course to Level 1 certification. The university course began in April. Among the students, the number of those who are taking certification courses to prepare for future employment is on the rise, and two of the required courses (ten of the credits required), "The Preservation and Practical Use of Cultural Properties" and "The Administration of Cultural Properties," have been flooded, with more than one hundred students participating.

It seems that the meaning of the establishment of such credentials is fairly well understood, and we are getting inquiries and requests for permission to participate from other universities as well. At many universities, the number of students wishing to study archeology is diminishing, and this may act as a brake for that trend. By the time the project is complete, we hope to have completed an arrangement by which many universities can take part.

Reference: Archeological Inspector Education Program

Ryuzaburo Takahashi
Professor, Faculty of Letters, Arts and Sciences, Waseda University.

Born in 1953. Specialty: Prehistoric Archeology/Archeology. His major works include "Social Archeology of the Joumon Period" (co-edited with Masahito Anzai: Douseisha), "General Remarks: Archeology and Present Society" (co-authored with Takuya Iwasaki: Asakura Shoten), et al.