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  • By Pacific island Times News Staff

Preserving underwater artifacts

UOG heads to Chuuk to train officials in underwater artifact preservation

The University of Guam is heading to Chuuk to conduct a month-long training for historic preservation officials on how to document and preserve cultural artifacts that lie beneath the ocean’s surface.

Led by Assistant Professor of Archaeology William Jeffery of UOG’s the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences, the June 3 to 29 maritime archaeology field school will be attended by employees, students, and specialist instructors from the Federated States of Micronesia, Palau, Marshall Islands, Guam, Hong Kong, Japan and Australia.

“Countries are now seeing that underwater cultural heritage is as important as terrestrial heritage,” Jeffery said. “With traditional fish weir structures, shipwrecks, Yapese stone money, sunken cities, and sites impacted by sea-level rising, Micronesia’s underwater cultural identity is highly significant in that it provides historical knowledge and examples of cultural practices that no other place in the world can provide.”

The training is being funded by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, more commonly known as UNESCO, in partnership with the FSM, following the FSM becoming the first country in the Pacific to ratify UNESCO’s Convention on the Protection of Underwater Cultural Heritage in April 2018. The convention seeks to protect, preserve, and interpret the cultural, historical, and archaeological remnants that are partly or wholly underwater.

Aircraft parts in the hold of Fujikawa Maru in Chuuk Lagoon. Photo by Greg Adams

“The FSM is trying to take some action to protect its underwater cultural heritage — especially the wrecks in Chuuk because they’re world-known, and one of the first steps is to get some people who can implement a program of recording, interpreting, and working collaboratively with many people on these sites,” Jeffery said.

The 12 field school participants will learn how to survey and create a database of different types of underwater cultural heritage sites as well as preservation techniques and how to grow community engagement in preservation efforts. The professional training will hopefully position the participating countries for more grant funding from UNESCO and other partners in the future, Jeffery said.

This is just the start of more field schools, Jeffery said, as other islands have expressed interest, including Palau, the Marshall Islands, and Yap, which has 700 to 800 fish weirs that the Yapese government wants to revitalize for sustainable fishing in working with the traditional owners. The schools will be open to UOG students interested in maritime archaeology and officials in Micronesia in addition to those from across Oceania and Asia-Pacific.

“There is great potential for running more field schools in the future because there’s a need,” Jeffery said. “Hopefully this training will be the first of a few steps in protecting the region’s underwater cultural heritage and showcasing its significant maritime cultural identity.”

Jeffery completed his doctorate in Chuuk through James Cook University in Australia

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