In South-East Asia, the protection of underwater heritage is of considerable importance, due largely to its cultural richness and the complex history of the region. Underwater cultural heritage holds a vast potential for sustainable development if appropriately managed. It is an interesting and attractive form of heritage, readily appreciated by the public. This is especially true for States bordering the ocean, as their appeal as a tourist destination can be greatly enhanced by the popularization of submerged archaeological sites.
The region is, however, facing challenges for fully realizing the potential of its submerged heritage. Trained professionals based in the region are still scarce, and the capacity to train specialists in the latest scientific methodologies and technologies is equally challenging. Many underwater cultural sites are still threatened by amateur treasure-hunting, organized looting, and industrial or commercial exploitation. While South-East Asian countries received extensive related sensitization and training in collaboration with UNESCO between 2008 and 2011, there remains great need for capacity-building and follow-up action to that each country may develop the required expertise, implement practical safeguarding and educational activities, and enhance the inclusion of this specific kind of heritage in public policies and heritage management planning. Urgent training is especially needed in the field of conservation and restoration of artefacts recovered from water. This field of scientific knowledge and skill is currently insufficiently developed in the region, and practiced among too few skilled professionals. Further training would also prove useful in cases of seizures by law enforcement of illicitly excavated and trafficked artefacts that have been suddenly extracted from water sites, their exposure to the elements now threatening to accelerate their degradation.
Against this background, UNESCO, Regional Centre for Archaeology and Fine Arts (SEAMEO SPAFA), and the Fine Arts Department under the Ministry of Culture of Thailand are collaborating on this training course in conservation and restoration of underwater archaeological finds expressly to enhance capacities in research and protection of underwater cultural heritage in South-East Asia. The training will transpire over the course of approximately two weeks, and is organized in collaboration with international experts and specialized institutions, such as the International Centre for Underwater Archaeology (UNESCO category 2 centre) in Zadar, Croatia.
The two-week course on conservation and restoration of underwater archaeological finds provides participants with an introduction to conservation and restoration principles and techniques. Participants will be acquainted with hands-on approaches to working with ceramic and glass, metal, wood, and other underwater organic materials. The participants will spend a few days in practical sessions with each and every one of them.
The applied training consists of both theoretical and practical segments, with the option of placing greater focus on a given segment, depending on the wishes, capabilities and knowledge of the participant. The programme will be conducted along the same points as the one-month course, but in contracted scope based on the time available. In the practical segment, participants will have the opportunity to explore different phases of conservation-restoration work that can be executed within the course’s two-week schedule.
It is important to note that, within the time constraints of an introductory course, conducting all phases of conservation-restoration work on a single object is impossible, and participants therefore can work on some phases of conservation-restoration work on various smaller objects. The primary goal of this brief course is to acquaint young professionals with conservation and restoration principles and techniques that will serve as a method to protect archaeological finds; in the case of more experienced conservators-restorers, the course provides opportunity to dive into specific skills in treating archaeological finds retrieved from wet environments.
Franca Cole, Sarawak Museum (JMS), Malaysia
Anita Jelić, International Centre for Underwater Archaeology in Zadar (ICUA), Croatia
Ligaya Lacsina, National Museum of the Philippines
Nittaya Kanokmongkol, The Fine Arts Department, Ministry of Culture, Thailand
Sanae Mahaphon, The Fine Arts Department, Ministry of Culture, Thailand
Pornnatcha Sankhaprasit, The Fine Arts Department, Ministry of Culture, Thailand