Damaging our heritage

By | Category: Travel rumblings

the collapsed site of Two Women Sitting Down

Yesterday I wrote of the damage that has been down to Egypt’s heritage as a result of organised gangs of thieves.
A few readers e-mailed to say that there were other incidences in places that you might not readily think of and mentioned two in particular.

About 10 days ago the New York Times ran a story about a small village called Aranda de Moncayo in Spain. There a man had been found who had looted 4,000 antiquities largely from a bustling city called Aratikos which was destroyed by the Romans. The paper reports that two bronze helmets appeared at a German auction house in 2008. These relics from the days when the Celts were the dominant civilisation is Spain are rare and that triggered interest. What this man had destoyed in his slapdash and unsophisticated approach won’t be known but maybe auction houses should be more diligent. The mayor of Aranda de Moncayo is quoted by the paper as saying that she wants a museum, proper excavation and investment which should bring tourists and some jobs to the area.

Over in Australia, a company called OM Manganese has been fined after partially destroying an Aboriginal site called Tour Women Sitting Down in the Northern Territory. The Australian newspaper reports that the company had damaged the sacred site by causing it to split in half, sending thousands of tons of rock and debris tumbling down. The company admitted liability, apologised and was fined just about £100,000 which seems pathetically small in comparison to the damage. This is the first time that a company has been prosecuted in Australia so could it lead to more? In a letter to the Alice Springs News, Dr Ben Scambary from the Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority (AAPA) pointed out that the Northern Territory Sacred Sites Act 1989 meant that the site’s custodians are ineligible for any compensation which seems to echo what has happened in Spain.

In the Australian case, no artifacts were stolen for profit unlike Spain. It appears to be like the Peruvian case I mentioned yesterday where a developer had destroyed or damaged a protected site. But in all cases we must tighten up on the world’s heritage; it’s policing and the punishments imposed when things go wrong so that others are deterred. Protecting the past may seem out-of-place today but it is what attracts visitors to a country. And as I have written so many times before, more visitors are the fast way to growing an economy and providing jobs.

Image © AAPA

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