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Developing countries need help in protecting archaeological resources

Pressures from development to serve the rapidly expanding human population is threatening large quantities of perishable archaeological data. Each year hundreds of ancient sites are destroyed or seriously compromised by hydroelectric projects, road building and other forms of human activity. While North America and Europe have contributed a share of the destruction in prior decades, the majority of the present loss is on other continents where development pressure is driven by need to sustain rapidly growing populations and/or burgeoning economic activity.

China and Iran pose noteworthy present actions. In the case of China, there are a number of economic development and energy projects, but none as great as the Three Gorges Dam, (PBS, 2007) within the next few years. Some of these sites, such as the hanging coffins of the Yangtze and Shen Nong gorges, are very difficult to salvage, since the sites are embedded on vertical cliffs 100 to 200 metres high. (Hogan, 2007) While difficult to date, most of the sites in the river gorges predate the recorded history of this region, but are estimated to derive from 1500 to 3000 years before present. In my April, 2007 trip to those gorges and other regions of China, interviews with local people indicated that preservation of cultural resources is simply not a priority of the present government.. Journalist Dai Qing wrote about the Three Gorges Dam impacts, with resulting imprisonment and banning of her book.

In the case of Iran there are ongoing dam and road projects causing the loss of hundreds of sites even as you are reading this. Current filling of the Dam is causing inundation of the Bolaghi Valley and loss of numerous sites of the Achaemenid civilisation, (Mehr, 2007) the first Persian Empire, flourishing in the 6th through 4th centuries BCE. While archaeologists are scurrying to retrieve a fraction of the information, flooding of over 130 sites in this valley alone is inevitable. In many of these sites water will accelerate the degeneration of artifacts and monuments.

Stringent environmental laws in Europe, Australia and North America provide some level of protection to archaeological resources, but what can we do to protect the resources of the other three continents? Intertwined in this phenomenon is the concomitant loss of biodiversity. Let us assist the brave journalist Dai Qing and others who are trying to tell the story, and encourage the governments of the West to communicate with and assist other nations to stem the losses.

* (2007) PBS, ''Great Wall across the Yangtze''
* C. Michael Hogan (2007) ''Shen Nong Gorge Hanging Coffins'', The Megalithic Portal, ed. A. Burnham,
* (2007) ''Darius palace in Bolaghi Valley had ash timber ceiling'', Mehr News Agency, dateline Tehran, Dec 22, 2007

C Michael Hogan Posted by C Michael Hogan
30th December 2007ce

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