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To Meet the Demand

University establishes graduate programs in preventive archeology to train new professionals

Daniel BuenoIn the last decade, archeology related to environmental licensing, also known as preventive or contract archeology, has flourished in Brazil, driven by large infrastructure projects. The increasing demand for specialized labor has created new opportunities for archeologists who up to now have worked in academic research. Although the work is essentially the same, commercial archeology requires specific knowledge, in particular in the area of environmental licensing, for example. The challenge is that there are very few academic programs that offer a specialized course of study for researchers who want to work in this branch of archeology. For this reason, Vale do Paraíba University established a broadly-focused graduate program in preventive archeology. The program, which takes 21 months to complete, will be launched in 2015 and is designed for students with an undergraduate- or graduate-level degree in archeology and related areas like history, geography, geology, architecture, civil engineering, biology, and environmental management.

“The program’s goal is to equip these professionals to identify and explore a wide variety of archeological sites while also handling the phases of environmental licensing,” says archeologist Wagner Bornal, who is the program coordinator. Currently, only undergraduate programs in archeology cover the broad outlines of the subject, leaving it to companies in the sector to train professionals to carry out these duties. “Even then, the undergraduate program does not go into any depth on the specific issues addressed by preventive archeology,” says Bornal. That is the reason the curriculum will include subjects like the preservation and management of archeological heritage, public awareness training related to heritage and computer technologies that apply to the subject. The program was developed from a proposal put forth by companies working in this field after it became clear that the market lacked qualified professionals.

Bornal explains that any researcher interested in moving into preventive archeology will continue to use all of the skills and knowledge he has already acquired. “The difference lies in the way in which scientific research relates to the project timetables,” he says. Contract archeology seeks to assess the impact of large-scale projects on the evidence of past events and prescribe the best steps to take to avoid, mitigate or offset it. Academic archeology usually addresses problems whose resolution can take a long period of time. Some lines of research go on for decades, focused only on issues of scientific import. Contract archeology, on the other hand, in addition to dealing with the short term, relates to a larger context, involving biotic, cultural, social and economic elements.

Archeology began to assume more importance in Brazil beginning in 1986, when the National Environment Council (Conama) passed a resolution mandating that the discipline be a part of environmental impact studies. Up until then, archeology was restricted to academic research, and only the electric power sector was required by law to hire archeologists from universities or museums to recover materials from sites that might suffer damage during construction, which applied mainly to hydroelectric dams. This new measure opened the way for a new profession to emerge from the activity, which is still awaiting issuance of implementing regulations.