Thai local community work together with archaeologists to protect a heritage site. The community living in Lopburi near Ban Phromthin Tai are meaningfully involved, since 2004, with the excavation and interpretation of the iron age site. Alongside archaeologists, the community forms a collaborative project were scientific and local values have equal standing.
The Ministry of Culture in Thailand predominantly conducts Heritage Management. Their methods, while scientifically sound, often exclude public engagement and involvement following a rather bottom-down approach. Heritage management, in the global context, advocates public archaeology as a means for sustainable management. In recent years public participation increases in Thailand with more than 1400 locally-owned museums. These museums, however, are not sustainable, lacking financial structure, expertise and management plans.
In the case of Ban Phromthin Tai, the archaeologists followed a site-specific practice inviting local stakeholders. Locals have a strong connection and a sense of ownership of the site, located within their community. From the start, the archaeological fieldwork encouraged public involvement conducting an open excavation. Each social group of the community hold roles in the interpretation and management of the site. Specifically :
Local Villagers serve as site interpreters and guardians while promoting its value in the area.
Temple Monks organise and recruit community members to progress heritage management efforts. Moreover, they have the role of mediators, resolving conflicts and problems. The monks live in the temple located on-site, which serves as a community centre too.
The village head seeks assistance from the local authorities, such as the police to increase the site’s security.
School Teachers offer education on the site’s history and encourage their students’ involvement.
School children participate in workshops and have followed the progress of the archaeological excavation from early childhood. The students know the site’s geography, visited and engaged during the excavations. Namely, they had the opportunity to screen dirt looking for artefacts. Moreover, the teachers of the local elementary school and archaeologists created a workshop. During the workshop information on the site’s history and context and excavation methods were given. A mock-excavation demonstrated the methodology of archaeology and provided a hands-on experience. Afterwards followed a written and oral evaluation. Currently, there is the development of the workshop to fit into school curricula. Overall, the workshop’s success lies with the students, as their involvement and knowledge will hopefully come to play in the site’s long-term management.
Local Organisations offer support with physical assistance and promotion of the site.
The practice of Ban Phromthin Tai is public archaeology naturally at work. The local interest and values inform the archaeological excavations and more importantly improve upon them. For instance, in Lopburi province, locals protested the government’s preservative actions, planning to disassemble a monument for preservation. Instead, the locals pushed for a conservative non-invasive approach. The importance of conservation over preservation, internationally accepted in heritage management, stemmed from the community instead of the cultural heritage authorities, effectively providing better management.
Furthermore, local actors effortlessly adopted the management functions revolving a heritage site:
- Guides and guards, the villagers
- Facilitators, the temple monks
- Government liaison, the village head
- Communicators and Educators, the teachers
- Future management, the school children.
Creating, therefore, a holistic and sustainable team.
The practices of public exclusion in archaeology are commonplace in government administrations globally and are not particular to Thailand. However, this project demonstrates that sustainable management and care can be the responsibility of local communities and heritage managers ought to seek their collaboration.
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