Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Not only the environment at risk...

A recent news article published by Africa Review (out of Kenya), once again coming to my attention through Museum Security Network, clearly implies that not only natural resource/habitat destruction and forced human migration can result from seemingly rushed 'development,' but that it undiscovered archaeological sites might also be at risk. The project in question is the Ambatovy mine (targeting nickel and cobalt sources in the east of the island; slated to be the world's largest nickel mine by 2013), a joint venture with Canadian, Korean and Japanese partners (see photo above left).

Operational since earlier this year, it has already come under some criticism, according to the article, for clearing thousands of hectares of forest and displacing 'traditional' villages, due to the 220km long pipeline laid to connect the mine to treatment plants on the coast. This pipeline, adn the disturbance created to install it, occurred very close to several UNESCO World Heritage sites, according to the article. This is despite the apparent implementation of "conservation programs" to offset habitat losses, trumpeted by the Sherrit International Corporation, the mine's primary financial backers. However, the main point of the article is to publicize an international meeting that recently took place at the Malagasy Academy (in Antananarivo) to discuss the apparently 4,851 archaeological objects, ranging from ceramic to bone to "tumblers" to plastic (?), discovered during construction of mining facilities.

Unfortunately, the article gives no information as to context, level of previous disturbance or amount of archaeological material on the surface. The description provided makes it seem to me that the 'site' destroyed might even be a late historic-modern midden (trash mound). If any genuinely prehistoric or historic sites have been, or will be, uncovered during future mining expansion, the publicly available Ambatovy "code of conduct" should prevent the willful destruction of sites or sale of artifacts, if enforced. What more comes of this, how increased public exposure affects or reshapes operational procedures in the future, and how many new archaeological sites are even present in the area to discover...all appear to be unknowns. Thorough and up to date archaeological survey and excavation work around Madagascar has been growing in recent years, despite episodes of unrest and the continuous need to negotiate with/around development and conservation projects (here, here, and here for examples). What this history means for any future excavations, salvage or otherwise, in relation to Ambatovy, is unclear. Once again, time will tell...

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