Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Caribbean heritage under threat

Loss of cultural heritage first brings to mind the destruction in the Middle East. But in the Caribbean it is mainly natural processes such as coastal erosion and human interventions driven by economics that are damaging the local natural and cultural heritage. A conference is taking place on Bonaire on this issue.

Coastal erosion and climate change

In her work, Professor of the Archaeology of the Caribbean Region Corinne Hofman regularly comes into contact with threatened archaeological sites. As a result of climate change, natural disasters such as tropical storms and hurricanes are becoming more and more common in the Caribbean region, and coastal destruction and erosion are increasing. These phenomena pose a threat to archaeological sites in coastal areas. There are also threats motivated by economic considerations such as the construction of bungalow parks, golf courses and airports for tourists, as well as large-scale sand excavation.

Geopolitical diversity

Parts of the islands in the Caribbean fall under French, American or Dutch rule. But there are also a number of independent island states where Hofman and others are currently carrying out archaeological research. These include the Dominican Republic, St. Lucia, Grenada and St. Vincent. Hofman knows well those areas that are under threat. The photo at the top shows that the coastline at Morel has receded 30 t0 40 metres in the course of the past 45 years, and is coming very close to an archaeological site.

Netherlands should do more

The diverse types of government make it difficult to create a clear picture of all the threats. 'The French do a lot,' Hofmann commented from the Caribbean, 'and the Netherlands should do more.' She pointed out that Aruba, CuraƧao and St Maarten are independent countries within the Kingdom of the Netherlands, and Saba, St Eustatius and Bonaire are municipalities with a special status. One problem is that these islands do not have the financial means to take action themselves.

Multidisciplinary conference

From 18 to 21 October a major conference is taking place on Bonaire, organised by TNO in collaboration with the non-profit Planet Earth Foundation -- via the Earth Dynamics programme -- and the ERC-Synergy project NEXUS1492. The conference is an opportunity for marine biologists, geologists, ecologists and archaeologists from all parts of the world to come together with representatives from the Netherlands and the local authorities. 'This is the first time that the Netherlands has organised this kind of conference on the islands,' says Hofman. 'It's crucial that it's being held here so that the participants can see for themselves what is going on in the region. My aim from the viewpoint of NEXUS1492 is to highlight what man's influence on the environment in the Caribben has been from the first settlement by Indian communities in around 6,000 BC until the arrival of the Europeans. We're also focusing on the current threat to the cultural heritage from natural disasters and human intervention.'

You can't understand the past if you don't preserve and manage your heritage

'In our project,' Hofman explains, 'we're using archaeology to map the way the original Indian people lived. This conference is also a means of focusing attention on the need to preserve heritage sites, particularly those close to the coast. From the start of my career as an archaeologist, in parallel with my scientific research I've always worked to preserve and protect the cultural-archaeological heritage. You need access to that heritage to be able to reconstruct the past so that you can tell present and future generations about it.'

Science Daily. 2016. “Caribbean heritage under threat”. Science Daily. Posted: October 19, 2016. Available online:

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