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Reuniting orphaned cargoes: Recovering cultural knowledge from salvaged and dispersed underwater cultural heritage in Southeast Asia

SEAMEO SPAFA, through SEAMEO SPAFA’s Senior Specialist in Archaeology, Dr Noel Hidalgo Tan, was part of the ‘Reuniting Orphaned Cargoes’ project led by Flinders University. An output of the project is the article titled “Reuniting orphaned cargoes: Recovering cultural knowledge from salvaged and dispersed underwater cultural heritage in Southeast Asia”. View the full article, HERE.   Highlights Tension between economic and scientific values of Underwater Cultural Heritage (UCH ) in legislation that govern it remains unresolved. Reuniting Orphaned Cargoes’ project reconnects ‘grey’ or ‘orphaned’ Southeast Asian ceramics to original shipwrecks. Employment of archaeological science can recover cultural significance of UCH. Integrating new narratives, capacity building, and community management can challenge UCH as an economic resource only. Abstract Southeast Asia, with Indonesia at its core, was the epicentre of the most extraordinary expansion of global trade ever witnessed along the Maritime Silk Route. But this story is incomplete because many objects of trade, and the shipwrecks from which they originated, were salvaged and dispersed without adequate archaeological recording of the details of their find-spots. This article critically assesses the prevailing legislative and ethical landscape of underwater cultural heritage (UCH) in Indonesia, delineating the underlying tensions between economic interests and scientific imperatives. Our consortium of experts and heritage authorities proposes a resolution through the ‘Reuniting Orphaned Cargoes’ Project, which endeavours to re-establish the connection between two notable collections of Southeast Asian ceramics situated in Indonesia and Australia, tracing them back to the shipwrecks of their origins. Archaeological science can shed new light on the cultural significance of the two collections whilst also unveiling fresh insights into this defining epoch of world history. Moreover, this approach addresses unprovenienced UCH, and opens paths to implement and refine the operational guidelines of international heritage conventions that govern it. By reconnecting relevant communities with objects of material cultural heritage that languish in institutional and private collections, this ambitious project builds capacity and utilises UCH for sustainable development in Indonesia, and across Southeast Asia. If these objectives are realised, the project will enrich our understandings of the past and secure the preservation of UCH for generations to come. Keywords Underwater Cultural Heritage; Maritime Silk Route; Indonesia; Archaeological Science; Heritage Management View the full article, HERE.