Archaeological monuments are the oldest traces of human activity. The oldest finds in Norway are about 12 000 years old. By 2020, the loss of archaeological monuments should not exceed 0.5 per cent annually.
More than 280 000 archaeological monuments registered
Settlements are believed to have been scattered along the entire Norwegian coast from around 9300–9200 BC. Remains from settlements have been discovered both in Rennesøy in Southern Norway, Aukra on the west coast and as far north as Karlebotn in Finnmark.
Many archaeological monuments and sites have been registered in connection with the production of Norway's economic map sheets, which started in the 1960s. So far more than 280 000 archaeological monuments and objects have been registered.
However, there are large uncultivated and mountain areas that have not yet been investigated. Spot checks have shown that there may be as many as 20 unknown archaeological monuments or objects for every one that has been registered. We therefore believe that there are many archaeological sites around the country that have not yet been discovered.
Many archaeological monuments are not visible
Some archaeological monuments and sites are easily visible, for example burial mounds, pitfall traps and drift fences, charcoal pits and hill forts. Others are more difficult to find because they are hidden under peat, earth and rock: for example Stone Age dwelling sites, iron working sites and some rock art sites.
Whether or not they are visible on the surface, archaeological monuments and sites are automatically protected under the Cultural Heritage Act.
Agriculture an important cause of damage
In general, agriculture is the most important cause of damage to, and destruction of, archaeological monuments and sites. One reason for this is that the best modern farmland is usually in exactly the same areas as those our ancestors found to be best for farming and settlement. Farmland is therefore rich in archaeological sites and objects.
The damage is also due to new farming methods. Thousands of archaeological sites were lost prior to 1950, during the first major shift in agriculture. After the Second World War, the extent of damage increased due to new machines, landscaping, ground leveling, cultivation of new areas and drainage.
With the introduction of the tractor the ploughing depth has increased, and the soil is compressed by heavier machines. Larger volumes of soil are therefore moved, and material from the soil is spread to a greater extent. At the same time, the farmer no longer sees what is being ploughed up. The number of archaeological finds that is submitted has therefore decreased, even though more objects are likely to be ploughed up.
Other activities with a major impact on land use, such as building and road construction, as well as deliberate vandalism, also damage and destroy cultural monuments and sites.
Strong legal protection is not enough
The Cultural Heritage Act provides strong protection for cultural monuments. It prohibits people from doing anything "which is liable to damage, destroy, dig up, move, change, cover, conceal or in any other way unduly disfigure any monument or site that is automatically protected by law or to create a risk of this happening" (from § 3).
But this is not enough to give cultural monuments the protection they need. Monuments and sites are illegally damaged or destroyed both deliberately and accidentally.
Grant scheme for expenses related to excavations
Grants for expenses related to archaeological excavations in smaller, private development projects will to a larger extent be given either entirely or partly. This is considered to be an important tool for the preservation of our archaeological heritage. The grant scheme is primarily aimed at smaller, private developers who have been given permission to build a house, garage etc. for themselves on a property where an archaeological site or object has been found. The grant is meant to cover the expenses related to necessary archaeological excavations in development projects of this kind.
Better registers as a land-use planning tool
To make protection of the archaeological heritage more effective, we must ensure that it is taken into consideration whenever activities or developments will have an effect on land use. Perhaps the most important tool in this respect is up-to-date registers of various types of cultural monuments and sites. In Norway various registers that contain information on the cultural heritage and the environment have been integrated into a single database, called Askeladden.