by Sandy Gerrard

A recent news feature in the Dundee Courier highlights a basic problem with the way that the destruction of heritage is viewed. The story concerns the discovery and excavation of human remains in Stirling. The cemetery is being excavated in advance of a housing and retail development with building work due to commence later in the year. The discovery is variously described as exciting and fascinating and clearly much new and potentially important information will be gleaned.

This much is not in dispute – it is excellent that the archaeology is being looked at and the remains treated with respect. At the end of the process the archaeology will inevitably have been destroyed and all that will remain is the record compiled by the archaeologists and the human remains hopefully reburied with the absolute respect mentioned in the newspaper.  This is the inevitable result of progress and indeed many of our wonderful archaeological palimpsests are a direct result of our understandable need to change our surroundings. So would it not be more honest to admit that sometimes the past must be sacrificed in the interest of the present and future. In Stirling the spin put on the destruction of a small part of the city’s heritage takes some beating. According to one of their councillors:

“The development of this key city centre site is clearly important, but it is also important that we preserve and protect the city’s rich past in the way that is happening now in the excavation phase of the project.”

It is difficult to understand how the complete destruction of heritage can ever be remotely described as preservation and protection. Taking this approach to its logical conclusion Stirling’s rich past would be best served by destroying it all but making sure to place the artefacts in a museum and the records in an archive. The idea that destruction can ever be seen as a way of preserving and protecting our heritage is one that needs to be challenged at every opportunity.  Our understanding can certainly be enhanced by destruction, but every time a site is destroyed tangible remains are lost and the chance to learn more using enhanced investigative techniques in future has also vanished. We need to face this reality and stop hiding behind the idea that somehow because we have made a record of what was there that is somehow miraculously preserved and protected – it is NOT, its gone and its gone for ever.

The point of optimum learning

This is destruction not preservation or protection.