The Commodification of Cultural Heritage
Why does the ICAU take issue with National Geographic's policies?
What the Article was About
the September 2004 Issue of National Geographic, a company called Odyssey
Why this is a problem
Public perceptions of underwater archaeology are heavily influenced by National Geographic in the United States, a company which has a long track record of supporting both solid, ethical underwater projects (see Watery Graves of the Maya in the October 2003) and extremely unethical destruction of cultural heritage (see Quest for the Atocha on the National Geographic Channel).
Why are only submerged sites (for the most part) being pillaged? Because current legislation applies only to terrestrial sites. Archaeological sites which are in the ocean are subject to the 'law of the sea', and admiralty rights, meaning that someone can claim an archaeological site as their own property if they find it.
Under article 3 of the United Nations Guidelines detailed in the ICOMOS Charter for the Protection and Management of the Underwater Cultural Heritage, 'Project funding must not require the sale of underwater cultural heritage or the use of any strategy that will cause underwater cultural heritage and supporting documentation to be irretrievably dispersed.'
The Directors of ICAU wrote a letter to national Geographic, pointing out the discrepancies between their terrestrial and underwater policies regarding cultural heritage. You can view this letter and National Geographic’s response in the January 2005 issue of National Geographic, but we will also post it here:
This was National Geographic's response:
What we propose to do about it
This unacceptable response motivated the directors to begin efforts to change National Geographic’s archaic policies. Mark Staniforth, chair of ACUA and Cos Coroneos, president of AIMA, have both writen letters on behalf of their respective organizations in an effort to encourage National Geographic to fall in line with the ICOMOS guidelines for the Protection and Management of Archaeological Heritage.
In addition, efforts to organize a session at the next SHA conference to revive discussion on the commodification of cultural resources is currently underway. Toni Carrell, the underwater research editor for the SHA has been extremely helpful and inspiring in helping to coordinate efforts to make this happen.
We would like to encourage the public to contact National Geographic and voice your concern regarding the magazines outdated policies regarding submerged cultural heritage. The online article and a forum for discussion on National Geographic's website can be found here [+]
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