Kenya’s effort to preserve its underwater cultural heritage is gaining international recognition as key bilateral partners expressed interest to join in the preservation.
The National Museums of Kenya (NMK) has made strides with the successful design of a maritime archaeological program for the study of heritage as well as a database of all shipwrecks and other resources in the country.
Although the program is in its infancy, Kenya has benefited immensely from underwater archaeology hubs like China.
NMK head of underwater archaeology Caesar Bita said Kenya has developed capacities in maritime and underwater cultural heritage through the training of archaeologists and establishment of an underwater artifact conservation lab.
“There is immense potential for underwater archaeology in Kenya that requires new attention both in research and conservation,” Bita told Xinhua on Tuesday.
“The conservation of maritime and underwater cultural resources has become a promising field of scientific and regional importance globally and Kenya can not afford to lose out,” he added
He noted that Kenya still has to rely heavily on bilateral partners as underwater archaeology is a new discipline that requires huge investment in human resource and equipment.
The NMK says Kenya has already benefited from bilateral cooperation with China which supported training of staff and surveys of Malindi and Lamu underwater archaeology.
Bita said NMK can not afford to rely on “accidental” discoveries by non-scientific ventures.
He noted this scenario prompted the country to intensify efforts to implement the preservation of underwater cultural heritage (UCH).
According to Bita, the absence of clearly defined policies and laws has put undersea resources under immense pressure from human activity.
“Its protection is thus a key part of sustainable development, whereby policies to encourage social and economic development should be commensurate with the ones on protecting our environment,” Bita told Xinhua.
“To effectively protect this heritage, one important step is to document how much of this resource is available so as to increase the dimension in which we understand and interpret this heritage in addition to mitigating the risk of losing it to vandalism and uncontrolled development,” he added.
Besides their intrinsic value, undersea resources provide a critical space for recreation. They also boast ecological, economic and scholarly value, hence the need to preserve them proactively.
So far, the NMK in collaboration with National Museums of China under the “Sino-Kenya Underwater Archaeology Project” are conducting survey to gauge its potential.
Bita noted that numerous maritime and underwater heritage sites have been documented, including shipwrecks, structures and artifacts as a result of these surveys.
“Interestingly these ancient artifacts have been found to occur around the ancient towns of Lamu, Mombasa and Malindi; towns that played a major role in the ancient transoceanic interactions across the Western Indian Ocean,” he said.
He said the NMK is upbeat on the future of underwater archaeology as other countries in the world follow in the footsteps of China to support the venture.
Underwater archaeology is a new discipline not only in Kenya but also in many other African countries.
Bita noted that currently sub-Sahara African countries are working as a block to strengthen their capacity in undersea archeology.
“These efforts have earned recognition and support from the UNESCO which has supported some training,” said Bita.
He noted an advanced study in underwater archeology is expensive while many African countries are yet to develop structures to facilitate this undertaking.
“As for now, there are inadequate trained personnel in the field of underwater archeology. Absence of training programs in local universities is also a challenge and we are forced to take people to China, Japan, Europe and America where quality training is assured,” said Bita. Enditem