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Latin America Countries Unite in Favor of Submerged Heritage
Vestiges found in continental waters such as rivers, lakes springs, cenotes and submerged caves are also of the interest of underwater archaeology. Photo: INAH.

MEXICO CITY.- For the first time, Latin American countries share their experiences regarding the defense and study of submerged cultural goods in maritime and continental waters; this problematic involves pressure from treasure hunters, lack of experts in submerged archaeology, as well as legislation with gaps in the matter.

At Fuerte de San Francisco, in the city of Campeche, nearly 30 young professionals from 14 Spanish-speaking countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, all of them interested in the theme from the archaeological, legal, historical perspectives as well as from the restoration and architecture ones, will participate during 2 weeks in the course organized by the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH).

The academic activity is supported by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) with the aim of integrating a common front to protect this legacy. Work conducted, now 30 years old, has put Mexico as the Latin American country of greatest tradition in the matter.

Besides researchers part of INAH Underwater Archaeology Direction, among them its officer, Pilar Luna Erreguerena, the course counts on with valuable collaboration of Dr. Dolores Elkin, from the Program of Underwater Archaeology of the Argentina National Institute of Anthropology and Latin American Thought (PROAS-INAPL), as well as archaeologist Chris Underwood from the Nautical Archaeology Society (NAS) of the United Kingdom and Campeche INAH Center.

Before the start of work at the Course for Research and Management in Submerged and Marine Archaeology, Dolores Elkin talked about the conditions of this discipline in Latin America, which involves cases of nations that are beginning to practice it, such as El Salvador, Ecuador, Colombia and Panama, as well as cases like Mexico, Argentina, Chile, Uruguay and Brazil, which have more distance covered.

Such conditions are “not external, in comparison to those that professionals must be willing to confront and overcome. What is important is the decision to devote to this aspect of cultural heritage, the one that is completely submerged”, she mentioned.

“One of the greatest obstacles is the general belief that only if a shipwreck has precious treasures it is worthy to be rescued, being our struggle against commercial exploitation, lack of legislation or laws adverse to protection, but we must overcome them. We must not give up”.

Except Paraguay and Bolivia, the rest of Latin American countries have coasts that face the oceans Pacific, Atlantic, or both. In their beds, shipwrecks of crafts part of Carrera de Indias, the route followed by ships between Spain and America, as well as contemporary ones, can be found.

Vestiges found in continental waters such as rivers, lakes springs, cenotes and submerged caves are also of the interest of underwater archaeology.

“All of them are treasures of knowledge. One of my objectives -continued Elkin- is to achieve that people from Latin American countries that participate in this course, can return with the conviction of not needing a lot of dollars or external funding, that we have the potential”.

On that regard Pilar Luna remarked that although Mexico and Argentina are the most experienced countries in submerged archaeology, they have focused in different topics: while in Mexico the priority has been registration of submerged sites, in Argentina they have more advance in excavation.

Dr. Dolores Elkin talked about the Swift Archaeological Project, “focused on unveiling the history of the British shipwreck H.M.S. Swift. This research initiative began 13 years ago and, though it was an English squadron that sank in the 18th century, it is part of the Argentinean history, with its commercial and political aspects”.

In the case of Mexico, although material rests of Nuestra Señora del Juncal ship have not been located yet in Campeche Sound, it has been achieved to reconstruct the history of this tragedy by searching through historical archives.

Pilar Luna concluded mentioning that thanks to the Course for Research and Management in Submerged and Marine Archaeology, participants will know sites “in the sea, in cold and warm waters, in continental waters, underwater sites at the high mountain”, as well as their projects.

National Institute of Anthropology and History | Submerged Heritage | United Nations Educational | Mexico |

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