07.05.2013 - CULTURE

Events at UNESCO Headquarters to improve the protection of underwater cultural heritage

Photo Exhibitions, Exchange Day and Meeting of States Parties to the Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage upcoming in May at UNESCO Headquarters

On 27 May, internationally renowned experts in underwater archaeology will speak about submerged heritage and the issues it faces at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris. The symposium day is open to the public free of charge and will be completed by the Première of the film by ARTE ‘Le Secret du Trésor de Bassas da India’ in the evening. 

The events will be followed by the fourth session of the Meeting of States Parties to the Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage on 28 and 29 May, and the meeting of the Convention’s Scientific and Technical Advisory Body.

Underwater cultural heritage encompasses a vast and important legacy. It is estimated that some three million ancient shipwrecks and sunken cities lie on the ocean floor, as well as thousands of prehistoric sites on now submerged landscapes. These sites bear witness to the evolution of past civilizations. Major sites include the 150 ancient cities submerged in the Mediterranean, the lighthouse ruins in Alexandria, which is famously one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world, as well as ancient human remains and offerings found in German and Scandinavian lakes as well as the Lusitania and Titanic wrecks. This submerged heritage is endangered, yet insufficiently protected, known and researched.

International efforts aimed at finding a solution to protect this heritage have been significant. Thus, in 2001, the UNESCO Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage came into being. It protects all traces of human existence that have been preserved in a submerged environment for at least 100 years and have a cultural, historical or archaeological character. According to the 2001 Convention, submerged archaeological sites should be considered as heritage and should be studied without being subjected to looters or commercial exploitation. Now, countries around the world work together towards this aim.

Steps taken to protect the underwater cultural heritage are also organized on behalf of sustainable development. The outstanding cultural and educational value of this heritage can benefit the cultural enrichment of people, towns and entire countries. Thus, as part of the 2001 Convention, UNESCO draws up awareness raising projects in partnership with universities towards improving research and opening archaeological sites to divers. Promoting the exceptional value of the heritage among children is also a fundamental goal for this Convention.

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