Underwater Cultural Heritage
Proposal for UCH in Hong Kong
Working with maritime archaeologist Bill Jeffery PhD, leading maritime museums in China and subject matter experts, HKMM has outlined a strategy for the development of a UCH programme in Hong Kong.
The Proposal provides a perspective on Hong Kong, China and International legal and best practices to implement UCH. Today, China is very active and has dedicated significant resources to UCH including an estimated 50 to 100 individuals carrying out projects, a state-of-the-art research vessel and several museums that showcase China’s long and rich maritime history.
The Proposal also explores how the Hong Kong government manages UCH, which apart from some general provisions of the Antiquities and Monuments Ordinance applying to UCH as it does to all types of Hong Kong’s heritage, there are no specific provisions that support the need for an active UCH programme. Importantly, this lack of focused policy and defined approach significantly contrasts with Hong Kong’s built heritage, archaeological sites and intangible cultural heritage conservation, in which territory-wide surveys have been implemented and active ongoing programmes are conducted. That said, a good start has been made in the area of community collaboration which includes specialised training courses for recreational divers having conducted by the Hong Kong Underwater Heritage Group.
The Proposal recommends a two-phase strategy for the development of UCH in Hong Kong.
Phase 1. The first phase is a two-year territory-wide survey of Hong Kong’s UCH. Activities and outcomes of such work include: creating an inventory of all of Hong Kong’s underwater cultural heritage, the identification of significant UCH archaeological sites of interest and if appropriate, nominate sites as monuments under the AM Ordinance; correlating special exhibitions at HKMM that focus on the territory-wide survey outcomes; a community awareness campaign with the goal of attracting more recreational divers to become certified in UCH, and the development of a three-year strategic plan.
Phase 2. The second phase of the Proposal includes ongoing community engagement initiatives, input into academic courses, the development of tourism initiatives and school programming, site excavations, archaeological exhibitions, collaboration with other Hong Kong and PRD museums and collaboration with PRC and foreign agencies in UCH management.
Asia Pacific Conference 2017
The third Asia-Pacific Conference on Underwater Cultural Heritage will be held in Hong Kong – at the Hong Kong Maritime Museum – from 27 November to 2 December 2017 (Excursions 1-2 December). The conference has grown significantly since 2011 when 128 delegates from 35 nations attended in Manila and in 2014 when 180 delegates attended representing 40 nations.
The Asia-Pacific Regional Conference on UCH aims to address 21st-century management and protection strategies of UCH in Asia and the countries of the Indian and Pacific Oceans and facilitate regional cooperation through the development of academic, non-governmental organisation (NGO) and governmental networks in the Asia-Pacific region. The conference is a forum for discussion of technical and ethical issues related to underwater cultural heritage and underwater archaeology.
The 2017 conference will discuss – among other topics – issues associated with the ratification of the UNESCO Convention on the Protection of Underwater Cultural Heritage 2001. With Cambodia the only country that has ratified the Treaty in the Asia-Pacific Region, and given the region’s reputation for illegal or unethical procedures, broader adoption of the Treaty and its principles is imperative. Asia contains diverse and significant underwater cultural heritage, including intangible and tangible underwater cultural heritage that dates back thousands of years and is still part of cultural practices of many contemporary communities. Regional UCH relates to trade between China, India, Africa, the Middle East and Europe, such as the Maritime Silk Road, and are of significant historical importance.
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Hong Kong Underwater Heritage Group
The Hong Kong Underwater Heritage Group (HKUHG) is a group of purpose-trained divers who help research Hong Kong's underwater heritage. As long-term residents of Hong Kong who treasure this city’s unique culture and identity, HKUHG divers believe there is great historic value and benefit in the range of underwater sites and associated stories that can be passed on to the Hong Kong community.
Training courses follow United Kingdom Nautical Archaeology Society (NAS) training from Introduction through Part 4. To date, four groups made up of 50 divers have participated and are now skilled in implementing a host of maritime archaeology activities.
HKUHG received funding in 2009 from the Lord Wilson Heritage Trust to implement Hong Kong’s first maritime archaeology investigation, including the development of a Hong Kong Underwater Heritage database. This investigation also included research and the survey of two different types of underwater cultural heritage sites: a shipwreck, and a scatter of ceramics located on the seabed off one of Hong Kong’s outer islands.
In 2012 HKUHG received another grant from the Lord Wilson Heritage Trust in order to continue the investigative work and along with newly trained divers, conducted a survey and excavation of the seabed ceramic material. This work was conducted under conditions set forth in a Licence to Excavate and Search for Antiquities granted by the Antiquities Authority pursuant to the Antiquities and Monuments Ordinance.
UCH site discoveries by HKUHG have been significant and include stone lions from a Tin Hau temple dumped into the sea, ‘traditional’ shipwrecks, and natural heritage material located along the coastline. These are but just a few examples that in combination with a growing database of numerous other sites located in Hong Kong provide information about the connections and activities Hong Kong and Chinese people had with the sea.
Safeguarding Underwater Cultural Heritage in the Pacific: Report of Good Practices in the Protection and Management of World War II-related Underwater Cultural Heritage.
Anyone who is interested in reading this publication could download an online version.
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