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UNESCO Works to Preserve Nautical Archaeology

8 Comments 10 December 2010

UNESCO Works to Preserve Nautical Archaeology

In a previous article published on 08 December 2010, Dr. Shelley Wachsmann of the Institute of Nautical Archaeology discussed the consequences of trawling, a form of deep sea fishing where heavy nets are dragged across the ocean floor, to nautical archaeology excavation. “Trawling is an archeological and environmental issue…Trawling absolutely destroys the seabed”, said Wachsmann. The field of nautical or marine archaeology is a relatively new discipline that faces various setbacks due to a lack of public policy, enforcement and awareness of the relevance of underwater culture.

The United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has an Underwater Cultural Heritage division solely dedicated to the protection and preservation of marine archaeology. This division of UNESCO developed a treaty to protect underwater cultural heritage. The treaty has been signed by 36 member states that are dedicated to UNESCO’s mission of conserving underwater artifacts and culture.

UNESCO encourages member states to collaborate and share best practices on marine archaeological excavation. The 2001 Convention for the Underwater Culture and Heritage endeavors to establish research methodologies and capacity building techniques for the field of nautical archaeology.

The ocean floor hides relics and shipwrecks. However, finding and exploring these wonders is jeopardized by pipe laying projects in the deep sea, treasure hunters and the fundamental lack of awareness about the significance of underwater cultural exploration.

Barbara Egger works with UNESCO’s Secretariat of the 2001 Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage in the Section of Museums and Cultural Objects, in the Division of Objects and Intangible Heritage.

In an interview with WaterWideWeb, Eggers explored the various concerns about the excavation work of marine archaeologists. Please read our interview below.

EAB: What is the main problem that faces the field of nautical archaeology?

BE: The main problem is that nautical archaeology is very developed in some countries like the United States, France, the UK and Australia. But in other countries, research centers for the study of nautical archaeology aren’t as developed. Political stakeholders aren’t aware of the importance of underwater culture and heritage.  In some countries, there’s a “law of find” policy where the person who finds the underwater object can keep it because he or she incurred the risk of doing so. These policies need to be modified.

EAB: How is UNESCO working to raise awareness about the significance of nautical archaeological research?

BE: UNESCO conducts classes hosted by heritage experts. In these classes, experts speak directly to government officials. Classes are taught with other institutions. Since 2008, UNESCO has coordinated a training center in Thailand on marine archaeology research. We are working with ministries of culture, hosting political workshops, and collaborating with high level decision makers in the field of marine archaeology. Currently, the convention has 36 state parties committed to protecting cultural heritage. Our goal is to get more countries to subscribe and to protect underwater heritage.

EAB: UNESCO also implements initiatives in child education with respect to marine archaeology. Can you explain that more?

BE: In the end, it’s the future generation who will protect marine archaeology. Investing in comprehensive programs to develop a cultural sensitivity to marine archaeology is vital to perpetuating an ethical responsibility for the protection of marine archaeology.

Take a look at UNESCO’s Kids Page here

EAB: Besides the children’s awareness campaign, are there other projects to educate the public on the respect for nautical archaeological sites?

BE: We are actually working on a diver’s program. We’re strategizing a code of ethics that instructs divers about the importance of responsible diving. We educate divers about the risk of damaging underwater objects if their equipment accidently comes in contact with a site. We inform divers that they shouldn’t keep underwater objects that they find. Instead, they should tell someone.

EAB: Why are nautical archaeological projects facing different setbacks than terrestrial archaeological ones?

BE: You wouldn’t dig up what you find at a terrestrial archaeological site. We’ve been imprinted with ethics not to do that. That’s what’s missing with archaeological heritage. When you dive, you shouldn’t take souvenirs. It’s because the field of marine archaeology is a relatively new discipline. Techniques for nautical archaeology were developed in the 1960’s. Whereas, terrestrial archaeology started late in the 18th century and took up to the mid 20th century to be taken seriously. It’s really a matter of time.

EAB: Are there specific threats to nautical archaeological projects that are more poignant than others?

BE: Treasure Hunting is a major threat to nautical archaeology. Pirate films propagate treasure hunting. UNESCO is trying to work against this image of the brave pirates who go digging for buried treasure. We try to work with media and film producers to make them realize that these images harm our cause.

EAB: Besides trawling, are there other major concerns in the excavation of nautical archaeologists?

BE: Besides trawling, there are major pipe laying projects that pose problems to nautical excavation. Projects that are extracting petrol or building wind power stations in the sea cause damage to the sea beds. The key to tackling these issues is raising the awareness level of development companies. These companies can be partners in discovering and protecting underwater culture and heritage. Typically, these companies are willing to displace a project to the left or right.

EAB: How can nautical archaeologists and development projects such as wind power plants work in tandem to protect underwater heritage and enhance development endeavors?

BE: We don’t want to stop development. Development companies should put these projects in place. Companies should conduct impact analysis tests before they start major pipe laying projects. There’s a big potential for synergistic relationships if these organizations work with us. We want people to be aware and to work together with us. Marine development companies have a great deal of technological equipment that’s helpful to marine archaeological excavation if the marine archaeologists and development companies collaborate.

EAB: What are some of UNESCO’s future plans for protecting underwater cultural heritage?

BE: We’re planning a meeting hopefully next autumn. It will be a scientific colloquium that will discuss threats to nautical archaeology. We’re working internationally on this effort. We work with a lot of universities. It will probably be hosted in Belgium at Leeuwin University.

EAB: Thank you for taking time to interview with WaterWideWeb.

BE: You’re welcome.

If you enjoyed this article, please read Part 1 of the series:

Nautical Archaeology Threatened by Trawling

Other articles that you may enjoy on WaterWideWeb:

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Bridging Water and Education in Kenya

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