Skip to 0 minutes and 6 seconds LUCY BLUE: So hi. I’m here with Jon today and we’re going to be talking about the challenges that are faced by underwater cultural heritage and I believe, Jon, that’s pretty extensive on a global scale. PROF.
Skip to 0 minutes and 15 seconds JON ADAMS: I think challenge is exactly the right word. If you look around the world, the sheer volume of cultural heritage that has become preserved over the course of the millennia in the seas, the rivers and lakes and the coastal strips, it’s just extraordinary. And the interesting thing is, is that we’re really still playing catch-up in the mechanisms and strategies of how to protect all this stuff.
Skip to 0 minutes and 37 seconds If you look back 60 or 70 years, before we got involved in the subject, it was only then that governments really began to be aware of the scale, of the sheer volume of material and what happened is that over the course of the decades, 50s, 60s, 70s, et cetera, they all came up with their individual ways of protecting this resource and so some people invented completely new legislation, some people extended existing legislation and some people simply took bits and pieces of existing acts and cobbled them together.
Skip to 1 minute and 10 seconds So globally we have this sort of patchwork quilt of different ways of doing it and what we really have been working forward towards, I think, the things that you and I’ve been involved in the last 20 years or so, is some way of unifying all this and to get common standards of how we approach this fantastic resource, integrate it, engage with it and study it and make it accessible to people. DR.
Skip to 1 minute and 33 seconds LUCY BLUE: Yeah, absolutely. And in some ways, that’s the UNESCO umbrella, isn’t it? PROF.
Skip to 1 minute and 38 seconds JON ADAMS: Well, absolutely. Yes, exactly. DR.
Skip to 1 minute and 39 seconds LUCY BLUE: It’s the convention that we all feel very strongly about, people focusing on signing up to because it’s the thing that gives us the baseline, the benchmark, in fact. PROF.
Skip to 1 minute and 48 seconds JON ADAMS: Exactly. So the UNESCO Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage, it’s a treaty, essentially, that’s what a convention is, which countries sign up to one by one and after a certain number, the treaty passes into law and now we have states adopting it kind of hand over fist and it’s really encouraging, the speed at which it’s being taken up. DR.
Skip to 2 minutes and 9 seconds LUCY BLUE: No, no, absolutely. PROF.
Skip to 2 minutes and 10 seconds JON ADAMS: But of course, we still have problems. Not everybody has signed the treaty yet and lots of people are still out there working outside the treaty. DR.
Skip to 2 minutes and 17 seconds LUCY BLUE: Yeah, I mean, I think that’s the whole point, isn’t it? I mean, we’ve got the convention but there are still these huge challenges that take on many different forms and what not. PROF.
Skip to 2 minutes and 24 seconds JON ADAMS: Exactly, yes, yes, yes. DR.
Skip to 2 minutes and 25 seconds LUCY BLUE: I mean, you work specifically with addressing issues to do with illicit exploitation, shall we say, of shipwrecks in particular and I think that is one of the key things, the key threats that we’re still sort of dealing with. PROF.
Skip to 2 minutes and 38 seconds JON ADAMS: I suppose it comes down to the difference between what is archaeology and what is not archaeology and when we say the maritime archaeology of shipwrecks or prehistoric land surfaces or settlements or harbours, et cetera, we’re talking about an archaeological way of engaging with that resource, investigating it, interpreting it, publishing it and making it accessible and we’re trying for the ideal of the total recovery of information. I mean, it’s impossible, but that’s what we’re working towards.
Skip to 3 minutes and 5 seconds At the opposite end of the scale, and if we call a spade a spade, we’re talking about treasure hunting, that is a partial, that’s a selective process where people target what is intrinsically valuable, gold, silver, porcelain or whatever else, for personal or corporate gain, in the sense that these things are picked out of archaeological sites and then sold off at auction and then dispersed and nobody is able to actually engage with that material again. DR.
Skip to 3 minutes and 30 seconds LUCY BLUE: So we basically lose that evidence, we lose the knowledge. PROF.
Skip to 3 minutes and 32 seconds JON ADAMS: Exactly. So imagine medieval cathedrals or burial mounds or something like that, if we had complete free-for-all and everybody said, oh, yes, I think I’ll have that piece of window tracery for my garden or I’ll build that into my barbecue, that’ll look fantastic, imagine what would happen to our cultural resource on land if we just sort of didn’t look after it. DR.
Skip to 3 minutes and 51 seconds LUCY BLUE: But I mean, I guess in some ways, though, that scenario is almost in human nature. You can understand why people want to cherry-pick those shiny things. PROF.
Skip to 4 minutes and 0 seconds JON ADAMS: Exactly, yes. DR.
Skip to 4 minutes and 1 second LUCY BLUE: So I mean, on another level, it’s about sort of trying to work with people to try and give them access to understanding why it’s important that we’re targeting the knowledge inherent in the underwater cultural heritage. PROF.
Skip to 4 minutes and 13 seconds JON ADAMS: I know the word you’re working towards. DR.
Skip to 4 minutes and 15 seconds LUCY BLUE: What is it? PROF.
Skip to 4 minutes and 16 seconds JON ADAMS: Education. DR.
Skip to 4 minutes and 17 seconds LUCY BLUE: Yeah. Well, indeed, that’s what we do. But I mean, it’s education, but it’s also awareness raising, it’s capacity building. I mean, a lot of the parts of the world that I work, you know, it really isn’t it’s, for want of a better way of saying it, it’s ignorance. It’s not deliberate, it’s not targeted but there’s huge scale, particularly in the coastal zone, development happening, which is by default destroying, in many cases, the signature. PROF.
Skip to 4 minutes and 42 seconds JON ADAMS: I don’t know whether this is– DR.
Skip to 4 minutes and 43 seconds LUCY BLUE: And people aren’t doing that deliberately. PROF.
Skip to 4 minutes and 45 seconds JON ADAMS: I don’t know whether this is the right place to make such an admission but when I was in my teens and diving in Greece, I saw my first piece of classical pottery on the sea bed and my instant reaction was to pick it up and I think I think that’s everybody’s reaction, because it’s fascinating, and you want to touch it, you want to feel it, you want to know what it is, et cetera, and sometimes people do that and they think, yeah, I’ll keep that, I’ll take it home and put it on the mantelpiece.
Skip to 5 minutes and 13 seconds Archaeology tries to do many different things with that material to actually get far more out of it than simply, that’s a nice thing, put it on the mantelpiece and so this is the sort of thing that you’ve been doing in coastal states all over the world, really. DR.
Skip to 5 minutes and 26 seconds LUCY BLUE: Yeah, no, absolutely. So I’ve been trying to sort of identify areas where there’s basically limited capacity, limited resources, limited awareness and work with the people on the ground. So working in educational systems, with ministries, really trying to encourage and enthuse and educate, in a non-patronizing manner, I hope, people who are responsible, essentially, for the underwater cultural heritage so that they can start taking responsibility and ownership in their own capacity. PROF.
Skip to 5 minutes and 54 seconds JON ADAMS: And what’s really encouraging about that, I think, is that you’re finding an incredibly receptive audience and that allows us to move forward from what is often the problem at the moment, in that archaeology is trying to do what it does but people who are taking a sort of commercial and profit-motivated approach are essentially pretending that their way is the only way forward, that this selective, sort of commercially-based approach to the underwater cultural heritage is the only pragmatic way to go. Now, some of the things that I’m working with are consortia of universities and industry and we set up these partnerships where we work with industry on a non-commercial basis, so they are actually participating in the archaeological process.
Skip to 6 minutes and 37 seconds We do the archaeology, but we work with them in terms of ship time, hardware, all sorts of other resources which would be very, very difficult for an individual institution to resource on their own. So, you know, working with ships and state-of-the-art equipment and working in deep water, we’re doing it. DR.
Skip to 6 minutes and 53 seconds LUCY BLUE: So essentially what you’re really talking about is education and education on many different levels and that’s what this whole process is about, is about informing people, educating and essentially it’s about trying to generate an interest in the next generation. And that’s you.
The world's heritage - Maritime Archaeology at risk
The problem of archaeology underwater being ‘Out of sight out of mind’, the ongoing threat of treasure hunting and the implications of its legacy, and prolific coastal and offshore development that is being undertaken in many countries, these are a few of the challenges that coastal and underwater cultural heritage (UCH) faces. Each threat needs to be met with a different response and tackled with different management strategies.
One very positive step that has made a huge difference with regards to awareness raising and imposing structural procedure when addressing UCH internationally is the introduction of the UNESCO 2001 Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage. The 2001 Convention came into force in 2009 and to date some 47 countries worldwide have ratified theoretically providing their ministries and practionners with a legal basis to promote, preserve and protect their maritime heritage. Yet despite proactive legislative measures the UCH still faces a range of very real threats.
Treasure hunting is still condoned by many states. It comes in many guises aiming to promote a professional and conscientious persona that lures even the most discerning of minister responsible for UCH. It can provide income to poorer countries not aware that careful, professional archaeological excavation can in fact provide greater benefit in the longer term, and it threatens shipwrecks in waters where territorial boundaries are still undecided.
Coastal development, dredging and land reclamation is however, possibly an even greater threat in terms of the scale of damage that is incurred. The coastal zone is largely the worst hit, having a direct impact on ancient ports and anchorages, and submerged landscapes, and an indirect impact on sites outside the development zone as a result of changes to the seabed and coastal topography. Fishing can also impact greatly on the seabed topography particularly when trawling is in operation.
However, one of the largest threats faced by coastal and underwater heritage is ignorance – ignorance of the presence, fragility and ultimately, the importance of maritime cultural heritage. Thus, limited value is placed on UCH and there are limited skills to manage and protect the resource. Redressing the lack of capacity to manage and protect the UCH in many countries is one of the critical first steps to mitigate the threats and bring about change.
Education is key in this respect – training and education at a number of levels, ministerial, agency, curatorial, university, schools, divers and the public – each require different tools in order to be able to manage, protect or even just appreciate the UCH. More specific actions to effect change and protect the resource include national legislative reforms; quantifying and documenting the resource - knowing what is there through the process of desktop assessments and its importance is critical in order to be able to determine appropriate management strategies; developing integrated management policies and protection strategies including heritage as part of any Environmental Impact Assessment and Integrated Coastal Zone Management Plan; working with developers to educate and share knowledge, expertise, resources and most importantly, data; encouraging well managed heritage tourism and promoting national and regional maritime museums and maritime exhibitions; and finally, raising awareness on all levels so that the coastal and UCH is afforded greater value and recognised as a beneficial resource.
© University of Southampton, 2017