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Posted: 15 July 2008

World Archaeological Congress comments on Tara’s world heritage significance

Following the largest ever international gathering of archaeologists in Ireland, at the sixth World Archaeological Congress (WAC) in University College Dublin, WAC has released a statement expressing its opposition to any further development alongside the new stretch of motorway in the wider landscape zone surrounding the historical site of Tara in Co Meath, Ireland.

“Tara has significance far beyond Ireland itself,” said Professor Claire Smith, President of the World Archaeological Congress.  “Its iconic significance derives from its unique cultural character, as situated in a broader landscape. The World Archaeological Congress strongly encourages the Irish Government to instigate formal protection measures for this area, and to consider nominating Tara for inscription as a World Heritage site.”

“Prior to the holding of the Sixth World Archaeological Congress here in Ireland at University College Dublin, we sent two senior representatives to look at the issue of the motorway,” said Professor Claire Smith. “They found that all the archaeological work had been done to the highest professional standards.”

Hosting the Congress at University College Dublin facilitated the holding of a Tara stakeholders’ panel. During this forum a number of competing and often contradictory claims were made and the World Archaeological Congress has now commissioned a report on the Tara discussions.

The World Archaeological Congress stressed that its report would not interfere with the legal and consultative planning process already completed in Ireland.  “We do not question the validity of the planning process undertaken in Ireland.  Our purpose is to learn lessons for the future and for other countries with issues surrounding development archaeology,” said Professor Smith.

“There are many strong opinions about Tara and it is important that valid claims receive due attention, and that misinformation be sifted out. This can only be done through a considered study.”

Recognising that the reburial of ancient remains in Ireland is subject to the provisions of the National Monuments Act and the agreement of the National Museum of Ireland, the World Archaeological Congress also draws attention to the Vermillion Accord on human remains and suggests that any human remains excavated from the cultural landscape of Tara should be re-interred with due respect as close as possible to their original locations, as this is where these people would have wished to be buried.

The World Archaeological Congress notes the significant adverse impact that motorways and other forms of development can have on valuable cultural landscapes. It will consider explicit inclusion of these concerns in its Codes of Ethics.

“Throughout the world, developments such as motorways can have significant adverse impact on cultural landscapes,” said Professor Smith. “Cultural heritage needs to be factored into the planning process from the beginning.”

“In order to address these issues from a global perspective the World Archaeological Congress will be holding an Inter-Congress with the theme 'Rethinking relations of Archaeology and Development'.” The Inter-Congress on archaeology and development is likely to be held in Lund, Sweden, in 2009.

The World Archaeological Congress (WAC) is a non-governmental, not-for-profit organization and is the only elected international body of practising archaeologists. WAC holds an international congress every four years to promote the exchange of the results of archaeological research; professional training and public education for disadvantaged nations, groups and communities; the empowerment and betterment of Indigenous groups and First Nations peoples; and the conservation of archaeological sites. 

The Sixth World Archaeological Congress (WAC-6) was held at University College Dublin from 29th June—4th July 2008. This was the first World Archaeological Congress to be held in Ireland. It was attended by over 1,800 archaeologists, native peoples and international scholars from 74 nations. Motions from the Plenary Session of the Congress were considered by subsequent meetings of the World Archaeological Congress Council and Executive.

The Congress Patron for WAC-6 was the President of Ireland, Mary McAleese. Previous Congress Patrons include Harriet Mayor Fulbright, Prince Charles and Nelson Mandela.


Cultural heritage threatened by globalisation

Following the recent World Archaeological Congress (WAC) which was held in University College Dublin, Ireland, WAC calls on those responsible for rural development policies and programmes to integrate cultural heritage concerns into their decision-making processes.

It also calls on policy makers to ensure that the values and concerns of first nation and Indigenous communities are fully taken into account in planning processes.

This resolution was passed unanimously at the Plenary Session of the Sixth World Archaeological Congress, held at University College Dublin, Ireland.

“The changes induced by globalization in agricultural and forest land-use management practices is depleting this resource,” Professor Claire Smith, President of the World Archaeological Congress, said today.

“In many parts of the world this heritage is under threat. We have to act now if we are to protect important cultural heritage globally. There is an urgent need for evidence-based research into the impact of these kinds of developments.”


World’s largest outdoor rock engraving site under threat

The World Archaeological Congress calls on the Australian Government and Western Australian Government to protect rock art and standing stones threatened by industrial and other development within the Dampier Archipelago and wider Pilbara region of Western Australia.

“The Burrup Peninsula is one of the largest complexes of rock art engravings in the world,” said Professor Claire Smith, President of the World Archaeological Congress. “This complex of engravings needs to be protected, not only for Australians but for the world at large.”

Woodside Petroleum and the Western Australian Government are planning to turn part of this site into a natural gas production facility against the recommendations of the archaeological community and contravening the desires of some of the site`s Aboriginal custodians.


Israeli-Palestinian working group on Archaeology

The World Archaeological Congress endorses the agreement on archaeological heritage reached by the Israeli-Palestinian Working Group on Archaeology. 

“This agreement is a model for other areas of conflict, as it recognizes the responsibility of each state to protect archaeological heritage regardless of its period and ethnic, religious or cultural affiliation,” said Professor Claire Smith, President of the World Archaeological Congress.

“The importance of the region’s archaeological heritage extends far beyond the borders of the two separate areas,” said Professor Smith.

The agreement is based on the assumption of the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. It calls for the repatriation of archaeological objects excavated after June 4 1967 to the state in which their archaeological context is located, along with all the records pertaining to those sites and objects.


Getty applauded for backing Philadelphia resolution

The World Archaeological Congress salutes the Getty Museum’s recent adoption of the Philadelphia Resolution that collectors and museums should not acquire or accept antiquities without documentary proof that they were known and published or documented prior to UNESCO’s 1970 Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property was adopted.

“The Philadelphia Resolution protects museums and other institutions from inadvertently buying looted artefacts,” said Professor Smith, President of the World Archaeological Congress.

“The World Archaeological Congress invites the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and other major institutions, both within the United States and outside it, to follow the lead of the Getty in this important matter,” said Professor Smith.


Cultural heritage in Iran under threat

The World Archaeological Congress expresses its strong opposition to aggressive military action (including air strikes) against Iran by the US government, or by any other government. 

“Such action will have catastrophic consequences for millions of people and will seriously endanger the cultural heritage of Iran and of the Middle East in general,” said Professor Claire Smith, President of the World Archaeological Congress. 

“The Iraq war was a disaster for cultural heritage in this region.  The world can not afford to replicate mistakes such as this. The World Archaeological Congress strongly opposed the war in Iraq, and we strongly oppose any war in Iran,” said Professor Smith.

“War destroys both lives and cultural heritage. Any differences with Iran (as with any other country) should be resolved through peaceful and diplomatic means.”

In order to address these issues from a global perspective the World Archaeological Congress will be holding an Inter-Congress with the theme “Archaeologists and Armed Conflict.”


Political violence threatens Zimbabwe’s unique cultural heritage

The 6th World Archaeological Congress held in Dublin, Ireland from 29 June to 4 July 2008 noted with great concern the current political situation in Zimbabwe.

The World Archaeological Congress condemns the current politically-motivated violence in Zimbabwe. This violence has impacted negatively on the lives of Zimbabwean people and on their productive capacity.

“Violence affects everyone. It is an obstacle to development and progress, and it is causing the accelerated destruction of Zimbabwe’s cultural heritage,” said Professor Claire Smith, President of the World Archaeological Congress.

 “The Congress is of the view that this heritage can only be meaningful to the present generation if used and shared in an atmosphere of peace, economic progress, and good governance,” said Professor Bayo Folorunso, of Nigeria, Vice-President of the World Archaeological Congress.

“Zimbabwe’s precious cultural heritage needs to be protected in these times of disruption and danger,” said Professor Smith. “Land is the Zimbabwean people’s most valuable resource and is essential to their sense of belonging and identity.”

The World Archaeological Congress urges a speedy solution to the current political, social, economic and humanitarian crises in the country to meet the aspiration of the Zimbabwean people.

Zimbabwe is the only country in the world named after the country’s rich archaeological heritage. Any usage of the name Zimbabwe and any representation invoking such a name, whether consciously or unconsciously, at any level, imply, and carry with it the values bestowed to the present by this rich cultural heritage. This heritage can only be meaningful to the present generations if used and shared in an atmosphere of peace, economic progress, and good governance.

Zimbabweans, like everyone else in the world, have a right to identify with this heritage, without fear of condemnation or retribution. This means that those rights, be they cultural, political, or otherwise, cannot be invoked or interpreted in a ways that justify acts leading to the denial or violation of other people’s rights and fundamental freedoms. 


Scientists support indigenous rights to cultural heritage

The World Archaeological Congress notes its strong support for the rights of Indigenous peoples with regard to Indigenous cultural heritage. In accordance with its Code of Ethics, the Vermillion Accord, and the Tamaki-Makau-rau Accord, WAC actively supports Indigenous communities in their efforts to make and negotiate repatriation claims. 

The World Archaeological Congress affirms the important role that repatriation plays for Indigenous communities in carrying out their cultural responsibilities. 

Dorothy Lippert, the Indigenous representative on the WAC Executive, notes "The World Archaeological Congress was founded on the idea that good archaeology involves social justice and that repatriation is one way in which this concept is put into action." 

In support of the rights and responsibilities of Indigenous communities, WAC calls for a global moratorium on the testing and sampling of contested human remains that were obtained without consent of the community. 

If permission has previously been given for testing, WAC calls for the results of testing to be shared with the Indigenous source communities.  "WAC is simply noting the importance of working with Indigenous communities when studying human remains," said Dorothy Lippert. "Research produced with the permission and cooperation of communities is significantly richer and more interesting." 

The World Archaeological Congress urges institutions and governments to engage openly and honestly in repatriation negotiations with Indigenous communities and notes the need for these institutions and governments to take financial responsibility for reburial costs to communities.  Institutions must prioritise contested human remains when compiling inventories.

The World Archaeological Congress calls on all holding institutions to ensure that information about their collection is readily available and that access to archives for further research is readily available on request. The World Archaeological Congress supports and endorses the use of oral traditions (as intangible cultural heritage) as a viable tool for providing a primary context for repatriation.

The World Archaeological Congress will operationalize these concepts by holding an Inter-Congress on repatriation to be organized by Indigenous peoples.

Presentations and publications at World Archaeological Congress meetings will be aligned with the WAC Code of Ethics, the Vermillion Accord and the Tamaki-Makau-rau Accord to ensure that Indigenous communities have given consent for the presentation of the information involved. 

Professor Claire Smith, President of the World Archaeological Congress, notes, "These measures will ensure that information provided under the aegis of the World Archaeological Congress will be respectful and collaborative in nature and will not harm the cultural heritage of Indigenous people."


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World Archaeological Congress comments on Tara’s world heritage significance