Preserving maritime archaeological remains

Preserving maritime archaeological remains

RESULTS of historical relics in the Musi River, South Sumatra, has become a topic that has been widely discussed recently by various international media. From the publication of a British maritime archaeologist Sean Kingsley in the magazine Wrekwatch who states that various objects of great value have been found, believed to have come from the relics of the kingdom of Sriwijaya. The discovery of the objects was the result of the work of a group of local fishermen who made night dives.

TO The Guardian city ​​of National Geographic (10/30) Kingsley said: “Their incredible take is a treasure trove of treasures, ranging from life-size 8th century Buddha statues studded with gems worth millions of pounds.”

The activity of searching for “treasures” around the Musi River has in fact become secondary work for local fishermen for several years. Many of them believe in the existence of various relics of the kingdom of Srivijaya at the bottom of the river and in several other waters around Sumatra. They are motivated to hunt the relics of the kingdom of Sriwijaya given their fantastic value. But one thing that needs to be emphasized is that hunting for archaeological remains without an official letter from the government is clearly an illegal activity.

Prevention and education

The government, both central and regional, must intervene to deal with the rampant hunting of archaeological remains in the Musi River by local fishermen. Prevention efforts can be led by the government through the service or institution responsible for the protection of cultural heritage in the form of historical heritage objects. One of them is to provide advice and education to fishermen or other groups in the community who have been involved in the search for underwater archaeological remains.

Preventive measures must be taken in view of the large number of cases of looting of archaeological objects in Indonesian waters. City of the page Review of international relations, V7, 2021 which states that since 2013 there has been the theft of underwater archaeological remains in the form of sunken ships up to 42 ships, of which 26 are warships. This condition makes many countries around the world think that Indonesia is unable to maintain the archaeological wealth contained in its own waters.

If underwater archaeological remains as large as a ship may escape our care, what about objects or artifacts much smaller in size. We certainly do not want to repeat the looting of objects of historical value in our waters. All parties must redouble their efforts to ensure that any hunting activity for underwater archaeological objects or underwater objects can be prevented as soon as possible. Because the objects that become underwater archaeological remains are cultural heritages whose existence must be preserved and protected.

This is as defined in the conference on the protection of underwater cultural heritage organized by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 2001, which declares that underwater cultural heritage is the whole traces of human existence which have cultural, historical, archaeological significance. character partially or fully underwater, periodically or continuously, for at least 100 years, which includes sites, structures, buildings, artefacts and other cultural relics, including wrecks.

Obligation to protect the coastal state

In addition to the UNECSO explanation, the protection of archaeological objects is also detailed in Article 303 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) which states that the coastal state is required to maintain and to protect objects of historical heritage found in the waters (sea). Although in general the descriptions of several UNCLOS articles do not specifically mention rivers as protected areas for archaeological objects, in the geographic space of Indonesia as a maritime country, the existence of rivers is placed like a domain integrated into the ocean.

In addition, the Musi River, long known to have a historic role as a “toll road” that connects inland and coastal communities. This also makes the eminent historian Kennehth R Hall in his famous work titled Maritime trade and state development in early Southeast Asia, undoubtedly positioning the Musi River as an integral part of the ongoing maritime style cultural activities under the control of the kingdom of Sriwijaya. This historical fact makes us aware of the potential existence of various other underwater archaeological remains that may not yet have been found.

The discovery of artifacts at the bottom of the Musi River, some of which are now overseas, is a heartbreaking reality. We have lost an important heritage which can serve as a clue to trace the traces of the maritime identity of our ancestors in the archipelago. Our territorial waters must be protected against such illegal hunting activities. All the while, we may have been careless, less alert, and perhaps even indifferent to the existence of various historical heritage items that may be found in Indonesian waters.

The way we see the scope of history regarding objects, buildings, structures, and artefacts that become other historical relics still resides on the continent. Even then, some of them are still not well maintained. Our awareness of history in the field of culture and geographic space is not yet complete. Even though as a nation with a long history of maritime culture, it is very possible that fragments of our history are also stored at the bottom of the sea.

It should also be understood that maritime archaeological remains are not always associated with a simple economic value, but with their urgency in such a precious aspect of knowledge, namely as a source of scientific reference which enriches the history of maritime culture of the archipelago. Hopefully in the future there will be no more stories about hunting for underwater archaeological remains that lead to valuables leaving overseas or disappearing on the black market.

On the other hand, this incident should make us broaden our view of maritime safety. A perspective that not only covers aspects of protection against smuggling efforts, illegal fishing by foreigners or border violations, but also includes efforts to protect various relics that are our archaeological wealth.


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