Essays on the Marshallese Past
Archaeological sites: a hindrance for development or
In most developing nations throughout the world there is the notion that supporting Cultural Resource Management is a prerogative of First World countries, while a developing country cannot afford the luxury to heed the calls for the protection of the heritage. In the eyes of most economists and public administrators, development and Cultural Resource Management are as incopatible as fire and water. In the follwoing we will show that Historic Preservation has an economic value which should be taken into account by government officials and economists.
The potential role of Historic Preservation in the cultural and economic development is manifold: It comprises fostering of cultural identity; thereby often creating political unity; cultural education by providing teaching tools; providing long-term perspectives on environmental changes; in exploitation patterns; and on age and health composition of a population; It also provides avenues for economic betterment by creating tourist attractions; and economic betterment by adapting traditional solutions to solving modern problems.
"Archaeological sites are a hindrance to development." "One cannot develop properly with all those museum people making a fuss over some old junk on the construction site." These and similar sentiments, usually expressed less pointedly, can be heard by many economists, construction company officials and developers alike. Only too often, governments treat the issue in the same vein and in times of economic hardship will curtail the funding for culture, and there first for archaeological work. And so the heritage suffers continuously, and quite needlessly, I believe. Consider the following:
Archaeological sites are also records of the environmental past. "Oh not more environment," one may say. But in this day and age with the spectre of global climatic change looming on the horizon, we do need all data we can get to develop proper micro-models on environmental change in any given area.
The most ubiquitous of the archaeological sites in the coastal areas of the Pacific and the Pacific Rim countries are shellmiddens, piles of shells and other refuse left behind by prehistoric and early historic people living along the shore. These rubbish piles contain a unique data source, and this data source in abundance: shells. The calcite skeleton of the shells fixes the environmental conditions of the sea-water and the air at the time. By analysing these shells we can assess sea water temperature and oxygen concentrations. Such an analysis, executed on Ecuadorian shellmiddens, has been successful in demonstrating historically past events of the El Ničo phenomenon, a quasi-cyclic warming of the waters of the
Today's main topic of environmental problems is the vanishing ozone layer. To assess whether there are long-term cycles in this phenomenon we have once more to reach back into history, long before ozone was recognised as a gas, long before gasses were scientifically defined. It will only be a matter of time until techniques are developed to assess the changes in the ozone layer from chemical changes in the shells' mantles. Permutations of the theme are almost endless. And data sources are abundant, unless we keep on destroying them without some responsible management.
Shells are in all ways a sensitive indicator of the environment they live in. When the environment changes, the shells change, either in species composition or in the size to which the individual species grow. By analysing the shells in the shell middens, one can reconstruct such environmental changes. In
Coastal erosion is a problem for many coastal nations. Assessing the speed of the erosion is often not easy, as proper time markers are absent. Historical sites can be used as such markers in time, as their date of construction is known and because they do not move from their location in relation to the shoreline. Such analyses, for example, have been carried out by HPO staff on
The coral atolls of the
The coastal areas and waters of the Pacific Islands and the Pacific Rim countries abound with these data providers. Why destroy them lighthandedly during construction and development?
As has been shown, archaeological sites do have economic value. Being markers in time they become increasingly valuable to those in dire need of data for predictions in environmental change. There is an abundance of data for a multitude of the above mentioned and similar analyses. But: archaeological sites are a finite and unrenewable resource left behind by our forebears. It is our responsibility to manage this resource in a wise, and thoughtful manner. These sites have enormous economic potential, the data contained in these sites are invaluable for science, coastal engineering and prediction of environmental change. Let us not squander these resources lighthandedly at the expense of our children's generation.
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