French Compromise Over "Rescue Archaeology"

PARIS--After nearly 30 years of skirmishes among developers, archaeologists, and government officials, France has taken a big step toward regulating "rescue archaeology," the excavation of ancient remains threatened by development projects. Culture minister Catherine Trautman last week unveiled a plan to end what she calls the "quasi-permanent crisis" by creating a new agency to oversee such projects.

Last year, archaeologists went on strike to derail a plan to open rescue archaeology to competitive bidding, saying it would damage research (Science, 16 October 1998, p. 407). But now, scientists are mostly welcoming a proposal to replace a semiprivate archaeological contracting agency with a public entity under the culture and research ministries. Plans to involve government and academic researchers in projects are an "affirmation that rescue archaeology is a scientific activity and a public service," says Françoise Audouze of the Center for Archaeological Research in Nanterre.

But one archaeologists' union is unhappy with a complicated formula that will exempt small developers from paying for digs. It is calling for changes before the government presents the plan to Parliament this fall.