Tuesday, 28 May 2013

'We will either save both people and heritage or save neither': What can be done about corporate and government led destruction of archaeological sites?

Following the news that a construction company in Belize has destroyed the Noh Mul temple, one of the largest Mayan pyramids, when gathering gravel to expand the country’s road system I took a look in the Maney Publishing archive to see what has been published on the corporate destruction of archaeological sites and what, if anything, can be done about it.
Noh Mul, the Mayan temple in Belize was thought to be over 2,300 years old
'Commitment, Objectivity and Accountability to Communities: Priorities for 21st-Century Archaeology’ by Maggie Ronayne was published in a 2008 issue of Conservation and Management of Archaeological Sites. It argues that the destruction of archaeological sites by governments and corporations has to be confronted and uses case studies from Ireland, Turkey and Mexico to show how “professionals can learn to work in a mutually accountable way with communities opposing destructive development, and together seek alternatives to development which threatens lives, livelihoods, culture, and environment”. In the following extract the author proposes a plan:

It is no longer possible to ignore the unprecedented levels of destruction resulting from development projects imposed by multinational corporations and governments. The projects are often backed by multilateral agencies like the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank or large non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Their size often ensures that many thousands of people and sites can be affected. The norm is little or no consultation and few if any benefits. Thus many communities find they must struggle to establish their right to survive. In this context, it is important to address the role archaeology and related professions such as heritage management play from the perspective both of the threat to physical heritage and our relationship with affected communities.

I am not a heritage manager but rather an academic, a teacher of archaeologists, whose research and teaching focuses on the development of a public archaeology in which professionals can learn to work in a mutually accountable way with communities opposing destructive development and together seek alternatives to development which threatens lives, livelihoods, culture, and environment. This approach has developed out of work in different countries over the last 14 years. The work has included investigating and documenting the ways in which archaeological excavation and management practices may be facilitating developments that are detrimental to the survival of communities and cultural heritage, and working out alternatives with communities.”

The author concludes with the following observation:

“I am not suggesting that it is up to archaeologists to solve energy generation, food security or any other aspect of development, but I am saying that as professionals we cannot afford to be ignorant of what communities want, need and are entitled to in order to develop and flourish. Archaeology and people’s cultural roots are not separable from these questions. They are not new questions: in 1968 Julius Nyerere, first president of independent Tanzania, in turning his country away from market-led development towards development based on the self-activity of communities, warned us of the mistake we are always in danger of making: ‘What we were doing, in fact, was thinking of development in terms of things, and not of people’. This, too, is our cultural heritage. It sets a standard that we professionals must run — and urgently — to catch up with. It is the starting point of saving our species by respecting every individual of it, and thus respecting the heritage we have produced. We will either save both people and heritage or save neither.”

>> “Mayan pyramid in Belize destroyed 'for gravel'” on the BBC

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

NEW EVENT: 47th Conference on Historical and Underwater Archaeology

The Society for Historical Archaeology (SHA) and the Advisory Council on Underwater Archaeology (ACUA) will hold their 47th Conference on Historical and Underwater Archaeology in Québec City, Canada, from January 8–12, 2014.

The Call for Papers opened on May 1, 2013.

The organizing committee has chosen the theme “Questions that count, a critical evaluation of historical archaeology in the 21st century”, which will permit the archaeological community to take the measure of its development over the past quarter century, all while spanning the transition into the new millennium.

The SHA first asked eminent archaeologists to identify questions that count at the plenary session of the 20th Conference on Historical and Underwater Archaeology in Savannah, Georgia, in 1987. We now pose this question to the broader archaeological community. The diverse sectors of the SHA and ACUA communities are invited to assess their progress, orientations and priorities. The responses may be very different from one sector to another, surprising some and confounding others. More importantly, it is crucial to allow each segment of our community to express its own views on the current and future situation of the discipline.

Historical archaeology has evolved both globally and locally. There has been a diverse integration of new technologies, forms of media, analytical methods, and participants. Community-based programs, public and descendant archaeology, and the experience of archaeological practice have all evolved over the last quarter century. To use antiquated parlance, dirt archaeologists are faced with a dizzying array of possibilities while they must still rise to the challenge of maintaining quality practice in an age of an explosion of sources and media. Other archaeologists are focused almost exclusively on analytical methods. How can we encourage best practices for all amidst a new array of questions that all seem to count?

Québec City is a place to rejoice in the old and explore the new as you can see in a recent special issue of Post-Medieval Archaeology (Volume 43, Part 1, 2009), “The Recent Archaeology of the Early Modern Period in Québec City. One of the oldest cities in North America and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is also a hub for exploring new media and technology. Cutting-edge analytical methods available in local laboratories have permitted experimentation in local archaeology, and new technologies have been incorporated into the public presentation of some of our most significant sites. The city is also at the boundary of land and sea, wedged between Cap-aux-Diamants and the majestic St. Lawrence River, where an immigrant European population met with First Nations peoples during the 16th century. We propose themes that explore these boundaries while posing questions that count or that continue to count, and invite archaeologists from all communities to present new research in their archaeological practices.

The SHA and the ACUA help students participate in the annual conference. If you are a student, it’s time to start planning your participation in the 2014 conference. The conference theme, Questions that count, is of particular interest to you because you will be dealing with and working through these questions. This is an excellent opportunity to take part in defining your future! Start preparing your request for financial support through one of the many programs available from the SHA and the ACUA. For detailed information and application forms, visit the conference webpage.

William Moss
Conference Chair

Monday, 20 May 2013

NEW EVENT: Underwater Archaeology Summer School in Malta

3rd - 23rd June 2013

This twenty-day summer school is based on a balanced mix of practical experience, lectures, site visits and seminars. Excavation and survey work will be carried out on the site of a Roman shipwreck first excavated by Honor Frost in 1967. It is situated in shallow (-12 meters), clear and sheltered waters. Experts from the University of Malta and other professional agencies involved in heritage management an protection will contribute to this intensive and rewarding course.

Day to day Programme:

Day 1 Arrival

Day 2 Orientation Day

Day 3 Preparation of site - Frost's 1967 excavation

Day 4 Orientation dives - Work since 1967

Day 5 Laying of baselines-work on 'ELBOW' - Posidonoa Oceanica

Day 6 Elbow Conservation I

Day 7 Site Visit Maritime Museum - Afternoon off

Day 8 Elbow Conservation II

Day 9 Elbow - Underwater photography

Day 10 Setting up of grid on Area K, survey and searches underwater

Day 11 Area K - Harbour reconstruction

Day 12 Area K - Technical diving

Day 13 Site Visit Ancient Pottery Burmarrad

Day 14 Area K - Drawing artifacts

Day 15 Area K - Remote sensing I

Day 16 Area K - Remote sensing II

Day 17 Area K - Conservation III

Day 18 Demobilization of grid/raft-Student presentations

Day 19 Swim searches - Student presentations

Day 20 Site Visit Gozo: Xlendi Bay and Museum

Day 21 Farewell Dinner

Day 22 Depart

The summer school will be led by Dr Timmy Gambin from the University of Malta with the participation of Professor Jeremy Green. For further details about the summer school please consult the website.

Please send you enquiries to Mario Cassar at mario.l.cassar@um.edu.mt

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Do the locomotion with me: the past and future in railway archaeology

Aerial view of St Pancras and King's Cross Station, London, UK
Last week’s discovery of what is thought to be the world’s oldest railway tunnel in Derbyshire, it lies on the route of a horse-operated railway built by 1793, got me thinking about the ever popular subject of railway archaeology and the opportunities new technologies offer us when learning about the history of locomotives.

Industrial Archaeology Review published a special issue in 2010 on railway archaeology. It includes articles on the excavation of the Brunton and Shields Railway at Weetslade, North Tyneside, the conservation of operational steam locomotives and how St Pancras station in London has risen like a phoenix from the ashes to become the symbol of the ‘railway renaissance’. The following is an excerpt from the issue’s Editorial:

“Railways were, if the truth be told, the way in to industrial archaeology for many members of the British-based Association for Industrial Archaeology. Geoff Charles’ wonderfully evocative study of a Manor class locomotive at Oswestry station in the 1950s will stir memories for many readers, not only of the fascination that the steam locomotive itself exerts, but of the paraphernalia of the steam railway — signals, a water-crane, platform lighting — and of the jumble of small-scale industries that always grew up around a station in a market town. The railway station provided a new focus for settlements, away from the traditional centre around the church and the market square. The goods yard and its warehouse was where essential supplies were brought in, and local manufactures exported, its size and form a useful index of commercial and industrial capacity. Passenger stations were architectural statements in their own right, whether a Gothic masterpiece like St Pancras or a small country stopping-point in impoverished Munster. Like the trains that passed through them, they could articulate a strong emotional meaning.

Railways are the most public industrial technology. The steam railway came into being at a time when technologies had come to be shared and imitated world-wide. There was no prospect of keeping it hidden from the prying eyes of industrial spies, as essential industries had been in the 18th century, and every reason for private companies to trumpet their achievements. The glory days were over by the 1930s, when they were starved of cash by a major depression and acing competition from the road network. Further pummelled by another World War, by the 1950s, when industrial archaeology was coming into its own, Britain’s railway system was grubby and outdated — but for all that, it still represented a compelling and more-or-less functioning Victorian technical system. It could not last. The long-heralded demise of steam traction was finally announced in the Modernisation Plan of 1954, and the Beeching report spelt the end for much of the network. The railway was to be revived as a specialist system dealing with the traffic it could handle best, not as a common carrier. With this change in vision came changes in technology and capacity; once-familiar items, like semaphore signalling, with its pre-railway roots in maritime visual telegraphy, were beginning to disappear even from surviving parts of the system.”

>> Download the editorial for free

>> Download the article Oubliez Waterloo: The St Pancras Effect for free

>> Read ‘Archaeologists find 'world's oldestrailway tunnel' in Derbyshire’ on the BBC

Friday, 3 May 2013

Underwater archaeology: why is our submerged cultural heritage so important?

VIDEO: Spotlight on Underwater Archaeology
In the August 2012 issue of European Journal of Archaeology a special section was dedicated to research and heritage management in underwater archaeology. It provides an international perspective with overviews of maritime archaeology in Andalusia, France, Croatia and Turkey. The following is an extract from the issue's Editorial:

"Key themes shared by [the articles] include: the history of underwater archaeological research, conservation and museum projects since World War II; the ever-expanding parameters of what constitutes underwater archaeology; the ongoing threats to underwater heritage and the measures being taken to protect, manage and promote it; the importance of documenting underwater archaeological remains; and the strengths and weaknesses of related organizations that depend upon government funding.

Jonathan Benjamin and Alex Hale promote an inclusive approach to the study and management of underwater archaeological sites and landscapes found in a variety of
complementary maritime and inland environments, ranging from offshore to coastal, estuarine, riverine, and lacustrine. They emphasize the importance of prehistoric underwater archaeologies, which have attracted less than their fair share of attention from the underwater archaeological community, not to mention the wider public. They also highlight the network of archaeologists, marine geophysicists, environmental scientists, and commercial and industrial organizations that is currently collaborating, with European Science Foundation funding, to develop research on the prehistoric landscapes of the European continental shelf."
Dr Jonathan Benjamin, co-editor of the section, also kindly provided a video that gives a background to this popular topic and an introduction to the organisations that are working to discover, preserve and protect our submerged cultural heritage.