Germanophone archaeological heritage management is currently dominated by the conservation paradigm, which assigns absolute priority to the preservation of archaeological monuments over any other potential use. This includes the protection of archaeological monuments from scientific research, unless the monuments are acutely threatened by immediate destruction, or the state heritage agencies want to conduct research themselves. The archaeological monuments, so the central assumption in this paradigm, must all be preserved in perpetuity to remain available in the future. The fact that one never arrives in the future, but always remains in the present, and thus prohibits any use of these monuments, seems to have been entirely forgotten.
This contribution offers a critique of this paragdim and presents an alternative paradigm and its consequences for the priorities and the legal regulation of archaeological heritage management. This strictly presentist paradigm assigns in accordance with the current legal situation a higher value to the currently existing rights of currently living citizens than to imagined rights of as yet unborn and not sufficiently defined future generations. Instaed of working from the absurd assumption of many representatives of the currently dominant paradigm that preservation for preservation's sake being the top priority of archaeological heritage management, the presentist paradigm leads us back to the actual aim of archaeological heritage management and protection:as an instrument of preserving the sources for archaeological research, with the intent to enable, rather than prevent, archaeological research both in the present and the future.
In the final analysis, archaeological monuments are being protected to ensure that the can be researched. From this, it necessarily follows that the highest priority for archaeological heritage management must be the enabling of that research. Only this enables society to benefit from the archaeological heritage and created its value, which in turn generates the justification for its preservation.