Freitag, 21. Juni 2013

Legal looting - Columbia's dissipation of its submarine cultural heritage

On monday 17th of june 2013 Colombia sold its cultural submarine heritage to treasure hunters. There are many shipwracks in the Caribbean sea as well as at Colombia's Pacific coast. They represent unique testimonials to World history. Remains of the ships as well as their cargo provide important historical information, providing a careful archaeological excavation.
Sir Francis Drake in Cartagena 1585,
hand-colored engraving, by Baptista Boazio, 1589
(PD, library of Congress, via Wikimedia Commons)

Colombia now pass a law which allows treasure hunter the looting of these wracks, if they give half of the finds to the Colombian state. This will without any doubt lead to the destruction of many archaeological sites. Most treasure hunter companies speculate for monetary revenue and have little interest in an archaeological documentation.
The law already passed the House of Representatives last december with 78 / 11 votes. The Senate with 102 representants accepted the disastrous law with only 8 votes against.

The argumentation of the politicians refers to the retrieval of otherwise unreachable objects.
"The spirit of this bill was to create mechanisms to access some heritage objects that would otherwise be unattainable" explained Colombian minister of culture Mariana Garcés. Furthermore, they see no problem in selling 'repetitive finds'. There is no understanding, that in archaeology the context of finds is the basis for every historical interpretation. Repetition of finds (assumed this is a concept suitable for preindustrial handicraft production at all) is an important archaeological fact, which has profound consequences on chronology as well as on the understanding of trading routes. 'Repetition' of finds is in itself an valuable archaeological fact, which must not be disturbed.

Colombian gouvernment rather followed the recommendation of commercial treasure hunting companies than their own archaeological experts. In several experts' report state archaeologists argued against passing the law. By political pressure several archaeologists resigned from their posts in the Antiquities Commission as well as from the ICANH (Instituto Colombiano de Antropología e Historia).

Contacted by Spanish ABC News UNESCO declared "enormous concern about the destruction of underwater cultural heritage sites worldwide through commercial exploitation and plunder. The situation is alarming and the threat is growing every day in many countries of our planet. "
There are several doubts whether the bill is in accordance with national and international laws. The UNESCO Convention for the Protection of Submerged Heritage states that any submarine archaeological remains should not be sold on antiquities market.

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