Marine heritage and sustainable development – Jon Henderson

I’m just back from the Society for American Archaeology’s (SAA) 84th Annual Meeting in Albuquerque where I took part in the HumAnE Archaeology Session organised by Carly Ameen and Naomi Sykes from the University of Exeter. Through a series of papers the session looked at using combined human-animal-environmental (HumAnE) data and how that can be analysed using a variety of arts and science-based techniques to unpick and model long-term bio-cultural dynamics.

Archaeology has always been interdisciplinary but I think we are at an exciting point with sessions like this stressing how long-term archaeological data, bio-cultural data and deep time data can inform solutions to the current global problems facing humanity. Archaeologists are uniquely placed to contribute a deep-time perspective on contemporary humanitarian issues, like those identified in the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, which are not exclusively modern phenomenon. Deep-time archaeological data can be collated, analysed and presented to help inform solutions to modern global challenges such as the effects of intensive food production, urbanisation, globalisation, climate change, disease transmission and inter-cultural conflict.

Using data from Rising from the Depths, my paper examined the legacy of the oceans and how data from past marine exploitation can help inform the sustainable development agenda. SDG14 Life Below Water recognises the economic and social benefits that sustainable use of marine resources can provide, including enhanced food security, sustainable energy generation, and poverty eradication through marine orientated livelihood opportunities. Providing deep-time data over millennia, the marine archaeological resource has more to offer than solutions based on tourism. For example, coastal management strategies and conservation projects rely on short-term baseline data that, at best, cover little more than a century. As a result, projects and strategies put into place are limited, and do not fully reflect ecosystem dynamics or the relative resilience of different species to the effects of both human activities and changes driven by long term climatic and other environmental factors.

Next month I’m off to the 1st Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) Global Planning Meeting for the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development in Copenhagen to make the case for considering marine heritage data in formulating sustainable solutions to the problems facing our oceans. While environmental sciences and ecological approaches have had a major role in the development of solutions, the potential role of marine cultural heritage as a usable resource and the long-term cultural importance of the marine environment are still not being properly considered. It is my belief that a marine cultural heritage outlook (prioritising human interaction with the sea in all its diversity) could provide the conceptual framework that unites, stimulates and informs interdisciplinary responses to the challenges set out in SDG 14. Wish me luck!

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