Protecting hidden cultural monuments - interview with Dr Udo Recker (Part 1)
Dr Udo Recker has been the State Archaeologist for the Federal State of Hessen since 2016, and in this function is in charge of the acquisition, securing and researching of Hessian palaeontological and archaeological monuments. The State Archaeology Department also presents the results of its work in two museums. Acting Director of hessenARCHÄOLOGIE since 2013, the medieval archaeologist tells us about his work with enormous passion.
Dr Recker, what can Hessian soil tell us?
Oh, if I knew that, my work here would probably be complete. Due to its natural conditions, Hessen is rich in archaeological cultural treasures. If you look more closely at Hessian geographical position, the federal state lies in the area of physiographically-favoured north-south connections. Hessen is and always has been a transit area. This is why we come across finds from almost all periods of human history. But as nice as that may sound to begin with, it doesn't make it any easier for us as monument authorities, because we need experts for all of these time periods. Whereas countrywide, there are certainly temporal focal points in finds here and there, here in Hessen, we have almost a bit of everything. And Hessen is one of the federal states where not only archaeology but also palaeontology is anchored in the Monument Protection Act. So we are concerned here, if you like, with a few million years...
What exactly is it that you do? What is the job of a state archaeologist? People always have a very romantic idea of an archaeologist...
I don't really conform to the cliché of the archaeologist with the stereotypical hat and boots. My role here is more administrative. As the Director of Archaeology at the State Office for the Preservation of Historical Monuments in Hessen, I am primarily responsible for ensuring that the cultural monuments - in my case explicitly the archaeological monuments of the state of Hessen - are recorded, protected as comprehensively as possible and researched, all in accordance with our legal mandate. In view of the continuing unchecked land consumption in large parts of the state, this is a great challenge for my staff. However, cultural monuments enjoy the protection of the state constitution in Hessen, even those hidden in the ground and not yet "raised". Thank God.
Why thank God?
Of course we have to ask ourselves whether we want to provide this kind of culture, and I think you know my answer. I see archaeology as an important part of identity building, as a science of social relevance that using knowledge of the past, can also make significant contributions to current issues. We all always define ourselves to a certain extent by our origins and by the area in which we grew up or live. This is very clear in cultural landscapes that have grown historically. The example of the federal state of Hessen, which was only formed with its present-day borders after the Second World War, demonstrates this issue time and time again.
As you’ve just expressed, your work here has more of an administrative character. You were involved in excavations yourself for many years, including in Sri Lanka. Don't you sometimes miss the practical work?
Yes, I do sometimes get itchy fingers. And when my time permits, I still like to look at the excavations of staff or colleagues on site. I think that’s very important.
Sri Lanka was a really fantastic time that I absolutely wouldn't want to have missed. You can't get the experience in any degree programme that you obtain in such an overseas project. Setting up such a project abroad and building the necessary structures - all that in another culture - was enormously important for my professional development. I took away a lot of tools for my future work...Next article in the series:
Protecting hidden cultural monuments - interview with Dr Udo Recker (Part 2)
Published on 08.02.2018