The primary task of archaeological heritage management is to represent the “public interest” in archaeology. How this is constituted, or how this interest should be determined, has changed significantly over the past 200 years. In the much more hierarchical societies of Austria and Germany of 200 years ago, it was natural that what was deemed to be the “public interest” was imposed from above: either the emperor dispensed it to his people (or peoples), or the bureaucracy, invested with imperial authority and in possession of “special expertise” , imposed it on its subjects. Yet, with the emergence of democratic systems of governance, societies have become much more egalitarian, and the means by which the “public interest” should be determined has been re-conceptualised: by means of a “public discourse” in which citizens with equal rights must be heard and can represent and advance their own interests.
As this contribution demonstrates, this egalitarian concept has hardly arrived in (Austrian and German) archaeological heritage management as yet: the relationship between what is now scholarly rather than imperial authority and the civic subject is still stuck before the 1848 Revolutions. Due to the complete lack of a public discourse and the specific form of scholarly engagement with archaeological heritage management, the power of (state) archaeologists is not a myth, and their authority not imaginary, but very real. The dire consequence is a near-total lack of public support for archaeological heritage management in both Austria and Germany.