Bergen / the Baltic

- an archaeological axis

The archaeologists of Lithuania are digging themselves out of their professional isolation towards the west with the help of researchers from Bergen. Fifteen archaeologists and researchers from other related disciplines, all of them based at Bergen Museum, met up with approximately the same number of Lithuanian colleagues for a one-week inter-disciplinary session in the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius in April this year.


(VILNIUS) - This is the first time ever that a large group of archaeologists from Lithuania and Norway have come together, and we have gained insight into inter-disciplinary activities on both sides. In addition we have established professional relationships and bonds of friendship, says Professor of Archaeology and Project Manager at Bergen Museum, Mr. Svein Indrelid.

Dr. Gintautas Zabiela of the Department of Archaeology at the Lithuanian Institute of History, which hosted the conference, says that the Institute attach great importance to the symposium as a way of strengthening research co-operation between Lithuania and Norway, establishing contact between individual researchers, and making Lithuania better known internationally. He emphasises the Lithuanians' interest in acquiring knowledge about methodological and technical issues, as well as the Norwegian archaeologists' use of research methods indigenous to the natural sciences. The Lithuanians also point out that they wish to come into contact with western colleagues in order to break the professional isolation towards the West which many see as a problem.

- Lithuania is a very important research partner to us, says Mr. Svein Indrelid, who headed the delegation from Bergen University together with the Director of Bergen Museum, Mr. Kåre Hesjedal, and researcher Mr. Asle Bruen Olsen of the Department of Archaeology.

Co-operation since 1993

In 1993 the Department of Archaeology at the Lithuanian Institute of History and the Department of Archaeology at the Museum of History, Bergen University, entered into an agreement to collaborate. Since then the wish for a major inter-disciplinary archaeological conference between the two countries has been continuously increasing. In the meantime the museum activities at Bergen University have been reorganised. During the week-long meeting in Vilnius three proposals were put forward for new collaboration agreements between Bergen Museum and the Archaeological Department at Vilnius University, The National Museum, and the Science Academy. The agreements, which were signed by the Director of Bergen Museum for the Norwegian party, comprise archaeology, botany, zoology and geology.

- This type of agreement will become important, particularly regarding the financing of student exchange programmes and participation at excavations, comments professor Indrelid.

Mutual scientific benefit

Even though more Lithuanians have so far been taking part in West Norwegian excavations than the other way around, the Norwegian archaeologists point out that there are wishes and plans for Norwegian participation in Lithuania. The collaboration shows signs of Norwegian support to an indigent research environment, but the Bergen researchers emphasise that they will be reaping scientific benefits as well.

Several of the archaeologists from Bergen University point out that Lithuania offers material and methods of great interest, particularly concerning finds and interpretations of textiles and wooden tools.

Door-opener from Bergen

University Professor of Botany at Bergen University, Dagfinn Moe, is an old-timer and a door-opener in the Bergen/Lithuania relationship. Through his interdisciplinary work, building bridges between botany and archaeology, Dagfinn Moe has played an important role by preparing the ground for methodological reorientation within Lithuanian archaeology. He tells us that the collaboration started after the political liberation in 1991, when the Nordic Council agreed a plan of "work distribution" involving Finnish collaboration with Estonia, Danish collaboration with Latvia and Norwegian collaboration with Lithuania.

- When the Soviet influence in Eastern Europe and the Baltic broke down, much of the infrastructure and the traditional lines of co-operation broke down as well. To start with, we gave laboratory support and support for the purchase of literature, says Dagfinn Moe. He emphasises that by opening up towards Lithuania and the Baltic we also open up for knowledge about flora, fauna and habitats that used to be less well known to us, not least because of the tradition of producing publications in Russian only.

Dagfinn Moe points out that Scandinavia and the Baltic historically speaking is one and the same area and should be considered as such.

- In the old days it was the sea, the rivers and the coastline that represented the most important transport, he emphasises.

The Lithuanians emphasise that their contact eastwards is still very important, but that increasing contact with the West now works better and is of greater interest, particularly among the young.

Analogies between the Norwegian and Lithuanian past

Researcher Asle Bruen Olsen points out the interesting analogies between Lithuania and Norway when it comes to their cultural development and the development of agriculture in the Neolithic period.

- Both Lithuania and Norway are relatively marginal countries in Europe, and the Neolithic development reached us relatively late, he says.

Dr. Vygandas Juodalgavis of the Department of Archaeology at the National Museum of Lithuania agrees with him.

- Together we can discuss common problems within the European debate about Neolithic development, says Juodalgavis, who is one of several Lithuanian archaeologists who have taken part at Norwegian excavations, and who has been the permanent Lithuanian contact in the Norwegian/Lithuanian collaboration programme. Dr. Juodalgavis points to the interdisciplinary programme "Stone Age in the south of Lithuania", as a project where new methods were employed during the excavations as a consequence of the co-operation between Norwegian and Lithuanian archaeologists.

Strengthened collaboration within Natural Sciences

(VILNIUS) The Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences has also increased its contact with Lithuania. Following some years of collaboration within specific disciplines such as chemistry and bothany, the Dean of the Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences, Mr. Eirik Sundvor, visited Vilnius University this spring. During his visit to Lithuania, Sundvor had meetings with the Vilnius University President and the Dean of the Faculty of Natural Sciences.

- Our primary task is to contribute to raising the level of education in Lithuania, by offering financial support as well as expertise, says professor Dagfinn Moe, who's had professional contact with Lithuanian botanists and palaeoecologists since 1991.

- We can achieve this by e.g. offering tuition at honours and doctorate levels. A considerable proportion of the researchers over here are now approaching retirement. If we can contribute by providing tuition and support for a new generation, then we'll do that.

- It is unlikely that we'll go in heavily on the research side to start with, says Dean Eirik Sundvor, while emphasising the Baltic represent an area of great interest to natural scientists, thanks to both the area's natural habitats and the scientific data available.

- For instance, the Lithuanians have geological core samples from all periods, adapted for use by researchers - including samples from periods from which we have virtually nothing in Norway.

Collaboration on Oil?

In addition to disciplines where collaboration programmes have already started, Sundvor thinks that marine geology, hydrogeology and marine geophysics represent possible areas of co-operation. The sea bed off the Lithuanian coast is currently being studied with a view to oil exploration. Oil and gas finds have already been made.

- Bergen University has had leading expertise in this subject over the last 30 years, and we would be happy to contribute.

Sundvor points out that Lithuanian geologists have vast quantities of classical seismic data. These are now being digitised, and can be processed by means of modern computer technology. He is also impressed with Lithuanian hydrogeology and their work to find ways of exploiting water which is being heated under ground.

Masters degree co-operation

Sundvor and Moe believe that teaching within the Masters programme might represent one avenue for bilateral collaboration. This would mean that Lithuanian post-graduate students would come to Norway to receive lectures and tuition in English, while writing their Masters thesis on data collected in their home country. Doctorate tuition is also a possibility.

Dagfinn Moe has previously tutored Lithuanian students in Lithuania as well as in Bergen. He has also arranged for so-called "home grants", which means that Lithuanian students receive Norwegian money for studying in Lithuania. He also points to infrastructure support and support for laboratory equipment, literature and, not least, subscriptions for periodicals as important contributions to the modernisation of Lithuanian science.

The Lithuanian Doctorate Evaluation Committees were previously made up of members only from the candidate's own department. The rules now require at least one external committee member.

- This is an opportunity for Bergen University to participate in the evaluation committees, says Dagfinn Moe.

A black spot on the map

- Norwegian flora and fauna are adapted to a coastal climate, says Dagfinn Moe.

- The further east you get, the more continental the climate becomes. They have a flora which is virtually unknown to us, particularly if we've been unable to read the Russian literature. To a great extent this area represents a black spot on the scientific map to us.

Dagfinn Moe is concerned with inter-disciplinary work, and points out projects in Lithuania which involves co-operation between geologists, zoologists, botanists and archaeologists. He can see possibilities for collaboration between the Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences and Bergen Museum in connection with Lithuania.

One of the topics discussed during Sundvor's and Moe's visit to Lithuania, was an evaluation report on Lithuanian research within mathematics and the natural sciences, commissioned by the Norwegian Research Council. The evaluation team was chaired by former President of Bergen University, professor Arnfinn Graue. There is considerable consent among the Lithuanians about many of the conclusions in the report.

The language barrier has also kept Lithuanian science inaccessible to great parts of the surrounding world, as Russian and Lithuanian have been virtually the only languages used. One of the recommendations in the evaluation report is for more publications in English.

- Unless the young start to read and publish in English, they might as well forget about having a say in international research, says Sundvor. Moe points out that young researchers are currently working hard with language and modern presentation in accordance with the standards used in intenational publications. While modern publications are of a deliberating nature, the old Soviet style was descriptive and reluctant to challenge authority. Support for literature and, not least, periodical subscriptions is therefore important in the process of building up modern Lithuanian science, he says.

Different organisation

Special to the organisation of Lithuanian science is the distribution of work between the University and the Academy; the University is primarily responsible for teaching, whereas the Science Academy is responsible for research. Lithuania also has a separate institution for geological field studies, which has been assisted by the Trondheim-based Geological Survey of Norway in adapting the old Soviet models to modern methods.

- Even museums are organised differently here, says professor Dagfinn Moe of Bergen University.

- In Norway virtually all major museums are associated with the universities. In Lithuania, the museums are independent, public institutions, while the university departments often have their own small collections. They don't have research-based university museums like ours. Should the Lithuanians so wish, we could offer assistance in the field of museum organisation as well.

One week in Vilnius

The meeting included a three-day academic conference, excursions to archaeological digs and historic sites, and walks in the Old Town of Vilnius, which in 1994 was included on UNESCO's list of World Heritage Monuments. The excursions included visits to the old capital of Trakai with its medieval castle, Senieji Trakai (Old Trakai) and the Kernave castle, which is considered to be Lithuania's first capital. Albinas Kuncevicius and Aleksiejus Luchtanas of the Department of Archaeology at Vilnius University were the visitors' guides round the various monuments and excavations.

During the conference representatives of both countries presented academic papers on subjects ranging from specific excavations and field work via methodological issues relating to pollen analysis and other archaeological uses of the natural sciences, to organisational issues in connection with the activities of science museums, and a presentation of Bergen Museum. During the discussions at the conference the Lithuanians showed an interest in the Bergen Museum model which involves an independent organisation for university science museums with emphasis on interdisciplinary activity. In addition to detailed academic presentations, representatives of both countries gave an overview of their respective archaeology, historic periods, regional studies and major research programmes. There was significant public interest attached to the conference in Lithuania, and the opening was covered by the independent television channel TV 3.

The papers presented at the conference will be published in volume no. 3 of a new series, Archeologica Baltica, and all contributions will be printed in both English and German, intended for an international audience. Professor Svein Indrelid emphasises that he considers this publication to be a good opportunity for Bergen Museum to present itself internationally as a centre of research and excellence.

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