Wetlands and archaeology


Increasingly, the Convention on Wetlands has been turning its attention towards the management implications of the cultural, historical, and spiritual values of wetlands, in addition to the natural and economic values which have become fairly well documented. Thus, it is extraordinarily timely that one of the leading archaeological journals in English, Current Archaeology, has devoted its entire Issue No. currentarchael1.jpg (49446 bytes)172 (February 2001), with support from English Heritage, to the many relationships between wetlands and archaeology. Just as wetlands decision-makers are coming increasingly to realize the unique archaeological importance of some of the wetlands in their charge, so too are archaeologists emphasizing the special preservation qualities of wetland environments.

Key articles in Issue 172 look at the fascinating work of English Heritage at four sites in the UK and, in a special section with contributions from Monica Kendall, Nick Davidson, David Bull, and Robert Van de Noort, archaeologists are asked to consider how best to use the Ramsar Convention to help ensure the protection of promising and important sites. Since the Ramsar treaty itself does not mention archaeology and amending the treaty would be a difficult political process, possibly taking generations to complete, readers are urged to "focus on management rather than on designation" and seek to influence the management process at existing and future Wetlands of International Importance.

The editors continue: "It is to be hoped that archaeology will receive a strong focus at Ramsar’s next meeting (in Valencia, Spain, November 2002), the theme of which is ‘Wetlands: water, life, and culture’. A major session will address ‘Cultural aspects of wetlands as a tool for their conservation and wise use’."

It appears that Current Archaeology is available by subscription only (15 pounds sterling per year within the UK, £20 outside the UK, to subs@archaeology.co.uk), and not at your news agents, but it might be worth inquiring whether this issue can be purchased separately (since they do havecurrentarchael2.jpg (30369 bytes) individual back issues on offer). The mag is a scholarly but well-illustrated, glossy, and very well-penned endeavor entirely suitable for laypersons with an interest in the subject (though with something of a UK focus), and subscribing might well be worth considering for many readers. The very informative Web site, http://www.archaeology.co.uk, presents ample information about the journal and a full description of this current issue (http://www.archaeology.co.uk/issues/ca172/ca172.htm).

In a related development, the European Archaeological Council is scheduled to launch in Strasbourg at the end of this month a new book (also funded in large part by English Heritage), The Heritage Management of Wetlands in Europe (with a foreword by Ramsar’s Nick Davidson). The book emphasizes "the importance of identifying, protecting and managing the cultural and palaeo-ecological elements of wetlands, and suggest[s] that to achieve this, archaeology should work with nature conservation bodies, including the Ramsar Convention Bureau". We’ll have more information on that for you in due course.

In closing, it’s worth reporting the CA editors’ sage advice to archaeologists, transferable mutatis mutandis to many other disciplinary groups. Having outlined a number of principles to be kept in mind, they continue: "These principles are based on the understanding that we can only preserve archaeological sites if we can more or less control the hydrology. Therefore, we should be looking particularly at preserving whole wetlands, rather than protecting ‘monument islands’. However, the archaeological community cannot do this alone. We should therefore explore the value of wetlands for recreation, nature conservation, and the place of wetlands in the countryside, and forge cooperation with a broader range of interest groups." I find that generally good advice for everybody.

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Number of » Contracting Parties: 168 Sites designated for the
» List of Wetlands of
International Importance
2,186 Total surface area of designated sites (hectares): 208,674,247

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