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Business emerges from the past

Entrepreneurial archeology plays an increasing role at infrastructure construction sites

Wall remaining from the main house of an 18th century plantation, found at a construction site in the Itaim Bibi neighborhood of São Paulo

Zanettini Arqueologia Wall remaining from the main house of an 18th century plantation, found at a construction site in the Itaim Bibi neighborhood of São PauloZanettini Arqueologia

For many years, archeologist Solange Caldarelli was able to spend hours debating the significance of shards found at a prehistoric site, something she rarely does now. The time she used to spend during her 10 years as researcher at the former Institute of Pre-History at the University of São Paulo (USP) and the Emílio Goeldi Museum of Pará State has been taken over by other, more managerial, tasks since she left academic life in 1988 and turned toward the then-incipient market for archeology applied to environmental licensing and assessment. For more than two decades, Caldarelli has headed Scientia Consultoria, a consulting firm that has 200 employees working in locations all over Brazil and serves important clients in the electric power, logistics, and mining industries. “I had a very academic mindset, but applied archeology turned out to be a new world that I fell in love with,” she says. If she hadn’t taken the entrepreneurial route, perhaps she never would have had the opportunity to explore the more than 100 archeological sites identified at the location in the state of Pará where the Belo Monte hydroelectric plant is being built and where her company has been working for three years.

Caldarelli’s example illustrates the current scenario in Brazilian archeology. Driven by the pace of Brazil’s economic development in the past 20 years, entrepreneurial archeology is going through an unprecedented period, marked by growing demand for specialized labor and featuring seductive contracts signed with giants of the infrastructure industry. Dubbed “contract archeology” or “preventive archeology,” the activity is pursued by more than 50 companies and is responsible for 95% of the archeology projects registered with the Historic and Artistic National Heritage Institute (Iphan), the agency responsible for overseeing the sector. Only 5% of projects relate to research at universities. “Today, most archeologists enter the profession in a way that is different from when I started out,” observes Caldarelli.

This is the case with Charles da Silva de Miranda who, after graduating with a degree in history in 2006, had trouble finding a job in his field and so went into archeology. Seeing which way the wind was blowing, da Silva de Miranda found in the promising market of contract archeology a new route into the profession. In 2008, he founded Archeos Consultoria, a firm specializing in archeological consulting for those applying for an environmental license. His clients range from shipyards to cellulose manufacturers to city governments such as the one in Bagé, Rio Grande do Sul State, where a dam is to be built. “Today an archeologist has to be ready to deal with the market, develop a budget, and manage a company, which disassociates him from that adventurer stereotype,” says da Silva de Miranda.

The expansion of archeology in Brazil goes back to 1986, when a resolution by the National Environment Council (Conama) mandated the inclusion of archeology in environmental impact studies. Until then, archeology was restricted to academic research. Only the electric power industry was required by law to contract with archeologists from universities or museums in order to salvage materials from sites that could potentially be damaged during the construction, mainly of hydroelectric plants. The new measure enabled archeology to become professionalized, although the profession has not yet been regulated. In 2003, for example, 265 applications to explore archeological sites had been filed with Iphan. In 2011, there were more than 1000. Another indication of the growth of contract archeology was the 2005 resumption of the offering of undergraduate degrees in archeology. Now there are 12 such courses all over Brazil.

1, 2, 3 E 5 ARCHEOS CONSULTORIA 4 ZANETTINI ARQUEOLOGIACaldarelli explains that, in contrast to basic research, “salvage archeology” needs to reconcile typical stages in archeological work that also involves monitoring, as well as activities planned to educate the public about their heritage, such as lectures for community audiences (see infographic).

Since the client’s timetable is always tight, the quality of work done by some companies is still being questioned by many experts, although in recent years Iphan has been demanding that projects associated with business ventures observe the same rigorous standards as scientific research.

Archeology as practiced in the academic world usually starts with a problem that can be solved over the long term. Some lines of research can go on for decades, concerned only with essentially scientific questions. But entrepreneurial archeology, in addition to the shorter time frames, is tied to a larger context that involves biotic, cultural, social, and economic environments. “The problem is that archeologists are still thought of as dinosaur hunters,” says another pioneer in entrepreneurial archeology, Paulo Zanettini, director of Zanettini Arqueologia. That distorted concept, he says, makes it hard for people to understand the reality of archeological work, which has ceased to be “archeology for archeology’s sake.”  Zanettini argues that the basic difference between academic and contract archeology comes down to the source of the funding.  While the former is sponsored by some institution, the latter survives on contracts signed with entrepreneurs. He criticizes “dividing archeology in two” as reflecting “an anachronistic view.”

The best approach, therefore, is to encourage interaction between entrepreneurial and academic archeology. “The market has been and is important for the growth of archeology in Brazil,” notes Gilson Rambelli, president of the Brazilian Archeological Society (SAB). To him, the work also enables a researcher to develop, from the material collected at an industrial site, a more comprehensive investigation during study for a master’s or doctoral degree. But Pedro Paulo Funari, a professor at the Public Archeology Laboratory at the University of Campinas (Unicamp), argues that even if the material is used in heritage education and by students, there are problems associated with long-term continuity of the studies. “In order for students to do actual research, they need to have sufficient historical context,” he says. This means going back into the field several times, something that’s impossible once construction has started. “Our function is to recover knowledge about societies from the past based on the interpretation of the materials found, not to salvage the largest possible number of elements that can be found at a site,” Caldarelli retorts. “But we welcome students with open arms and our researchers are encouraged to pursue their analyses further at a university,” she says.

Project quality
Rosana Najjar, director of the National Archeology Center associated with Iphan, says it’s important to encourage best practices among companies who handle the recovery of archeological materials, which are considered to be federal government property. According to her, some companies retreat when they see that they are “just collecting little clay pots.” “In some cases, the site is seen only as an obstacle in the path of the construction project rather than a source for answers to questions asked by a researcher,” she says. In 2002, an Iphan directive stipulated how projects submitted by the companies should be written up. The principal criterion is that the document take the form of a scientific proposal, i.e., it must clearly lay out a problem and describe the methodology that will be used to solve it.  “If we approach a site without guidelines and an objective, we will be practicing collectionism, not archeology,” Najjar explains. After the requirement was put in place, she observed a significant improvement in the applications that must be submitted before construction begins.

Excavation at one of the archeological sites in the state of Pará where the Belo Monte hydroelectric plant is being built.

Scientia ConsultoriaExcavation at one of the archeological sites in the state of Pará where the Belo Monte hydroelectric plant is being built.Scientia Consultoria

Paulo Zanettini acknowledges the progress made in Brazilian legislation. “If the work of the archeologist is to be valid, the results must be returned to society, and that includes attending conventions, publication in periodicals, development of educational programs, and dissemination in the press.” As an example of how archeology has matured in its interaction with the market, he cites a program developed in Caetité, a municipality deep in the backlands of Bahia State, with support from the Brazilian Development Bank (BNDES). Contracted by a builder, Zanettini’s company found 150 sites in the region where chipped utensils and evidence of rock carvings dating back more than 6,000 years was found.  Also found were vestiges of traditional communities. Because of the material collected, his company spent a  year talking to the local residents about building a museum, which will be erected this year. “It will not be a museum forced on the community and restricted to archeology, but a space for storing and discussing the heritage of the region,” he adds.

In another case, construction of a building in an exclusive neighborhood of the city of São Paulo was begun without proper evaluation having been done, causing damage to an archeological site. The situation came to the attention of the Office of the Public Prosecutors and Zanettini’s firm was hired to make the report. As compensation, the developer had to indemnify the state government; the proceeds were earmarked for the building of the new archeological museum at USP. “When conducting archeological studies where buildings are under construction, you cannot go back later for another look, so it is important that study results revert to the community and to academic research,” says Najjar, from Iphan.