One of the most difficult and important matters, that always must be managed well by archaeologists who do field research, is about the way to relate to local communities. This important aspect of heritage management has been especially relevant worldly in the last decades. There are going to be taken as reference for reflection some experiences accumulated in the Argentinian portion of the south-center Andean area.
In general terms, undoubtedly archaeologists have a lot to learn, share and give in terms of their relationship with local communities, and, at the same time, it is a lot that is received. Like many other academic activities, most archaeological research doesn’t really leave long lasting benefits where field work takes place, this situation can be attributed to a lack of perspective on management of heritage, local development in general, and a lack of resources for the active professional team that, in most cases, are entirely based on distant cities from where the findings are made.
In the last years, the social and political conjuncture has revealed in this region a process of ethnicization, driven by governments, international multilateral organisms and civil society organizations. Locally communitary clusters are created on the bases of self-adscription of a group of individuals to a determinate ethnic identity that, after the corresponding presentations, are validated by law by the state.
These groups consider pre-Hispanic archaeological heritage, in their respective localities, as their own because they are interpreted as a work of their ancestors and evidence of the great antiquity of their presence in the area. This position is supported by authorities that oversee matters of heritage in a provincial and national level, and they find militant support in diverse academic sectors and important civil organizations, many of them with an outstanding presence in the capital city of the country.
In some regions, like Puna and Quebrada de Humahuaca (Jujuy, Argentina) most localities have one or more organized indigenous groups that, formally, it’s a must to ask for an authorization to do archaeological research in their influence area, also other current human settlements (like the one in capital city) are located in the same province of Argentina and they don’t have this requirement for the study of remains of the past because of the absence of groups that have shown interest in reclaiming an historical continuity with local remains of material culture.
It is required to have a written authorization from the communities that are juridically organized. In almost every case only a few of the members of a locality self-identify as a member of an indigenous community. It is not unusual to look inside a family, and see members of different indigenous groups (and even conflicting ones) and people who don´t identify as what they are associated to.
State tends to concede these populations the patrimonialization of archaeological heritage, and takes care of the administrative management related to archaeologists. Effective process of heritage in archaeological sites is very scarce in number and decisions about their accomplishment respond to factors that are separated from archaeology. In the name of heritage, recently, actions are born from what they might be worth later and as an expansion of tourism and business and political interest, and not from protection or giving value to goods.
The context of the situation briefly described is relevant to every part, as it usually is the base of conflict. Archaeologists mostly aren’t specialized in activities for heritage management or relationships with the communities; and up until recently, rarely this kind of debate and projects had surfaced. The possible debate that could come up is around different versions of the characteristics of local past, that would be reached on the bases of conclusions from academic environments, and some developed based on a sense of belonging to a determined human group, usually are in separated paths, without mayor confrontation, and in case of such, it is ruled in favor of locals.
Facing this complex reality, the knowledge and care of prehispanic heritage require to find a way out of this paralyzing crossroads, that allows to focus in the direct benefits for local communities as a whole, also in the development of specialized research and, simultaneously, in the protection of cultural heritage and management of knowledge by an adequate heritage management in which every part cooperates mutually from the place of their capacities.