Kenya prepares for regional training workshops on the protection of underwater cultural heritage

Staff members from the National Museums of Kenya test some of the new diving equipment received from the Japan Funds-in-Trust to UNESCO project at the Department of Coastal Archaeology in Mombasa ©National Museums of Kenya

A Japan Funds-in-Trust to UNESCO project has provided diving equipment to the National Museums of Kenya’s Department of Coastal Archaeology in preparation for two regional capacity-building workshops on the protection of underwater cultural heritage to be held in the second half of 2021 for 18 participants from across the Africa region.

The UNESCO project "Building Capacity and Raising Awareness for Underwater Cultural Heritage Research in Africa" aims to increase capacities of African underwater archaeologists from  Angola, Benin, Comoros, Djibouti, Eritrea, Kenya, Madagascar, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Senegal, Seychelles, Somalia, Tanzania, Mauritius and Sudan, and raise awareness among community and government stakeholders about the urgency and importance of protecting and promoting underwater cultural heritage. The activities under this initiative aim to build on the positive impact already seen through previous UNESCO activities in Africa in the context of the 2001 Convention concerning the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage and strengthen the region's current capabilities on cultural heritage protection. 

The Professional Diving equipment procured for the project includes: diving cylinders, regulators, snorkels, wetsuits, fins, and boots. The equipment will be used by the National Museums of Kenya’s Department of Coastal Archaeology beyond the project to train underwater archeologists in protecting the Underwater Cultural Heritage.

Receiving the equipment on behalf of the National Museums of Kenya, Dr. Purity Kiura lauded the initiative by UNESCO. "As the implementing partner of this project, the National Museums of Kenya appreciates the continued support received from UNESCO, in preparation of the capacity building workshops planned for later this year, and our long-term endeavor to protect our underwater cultural heritage. This assistance will go a long way in supporting the government's commitment to ensuring that the protection of cultural heritage is kept as one of its priorities."

Underwater cultural heritage encompasses all traces of human existence that lie or have lain underwater and have a cultural or historical character. This includes three million shipwrecks such as Titanic, Belitung and the 4,000 shipwrecks of the sunken fleet of Kublai Khan. There are also sunken ruins and cities, like the remains of the Pharos of Alexandria, Egypt – one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World - and thousands of submerged prehistoric sites.

Over the course of earth's history, entire cities have been swallowed by the waves, and thousands of ships have perished at sea. While these ships, structures and other cultural items are not frequently visible from the water's surface, they have survived at the bottom of lakes, seas and oceans, safely preserved by the submarine environment.

Such heritage provides testimony to various periods and aspects of our shared history; for example, the cruelty of the slave trade, the ferocity of war, the impact of natural disasters, traces of sacred ceremonies and beliefs and the peaceful exchange and intercultural dialogue between disparate regions of the globe.