Author:Cornelia Kleinitz (Humboldt University Berlin)
Paper short abstract:
On the basis of a case study the paper investigates the intricacies of (European-led) cultural heritage practices - and local responses to these - in a non-European context.
Paper long abstract:
European archaeologists from time to time find themselves engaged in other parts of the globe, where they act as external 'heritage specialists'. In parts of the African continent, due to rapid development, archaeological research and heritage management is increasingly undertaken in the context of salvage projects. Often, these projects are linked to the large-scale destruction not only of cultural resources but also of local people's livelihoods. Recently, one of these projects, the Merowe Dam Archaeological Salvage Project at the Fourth Nile Cataract in northern Sudan, was faced with an unprecedented level of local resentment. While the 'dead' archaeological heritage had been the focus of the rescue missions, only few engaged with the living heritage or the concerns and wishes of the local Manasir people. This relegated locals to roles either as workmen or as passive bystanders to the archaeological exploitation of their land, which was driven by a variety of expert agendas. Local responses involved claims to ownership of the antiquities unearthed by the experts (thus contesting the national antiquities laws), the demand for a local museum and large-scale illicit digging for 'treasure'. Eventually the archaeologists were expelled from Manasir territory and the salvage project was prematurely terminated. This led to soul-searching among at least some of the external 'experts'. In the face of more immediate problems, can we really accuse local people of disregarding future generations' right to their heritage? Does the right to a cultural heritage also involve the duty to honour cultural heritage? And whose heritage is it, anyway?
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