MAC: Mines and Communities

Mining's desecration of ancient art

Published by MAC on 2013-03-19
Source: ABC News, Globe & Mail, Peru This Week (2013-03-14)

Mining is often associated with the destruction of heritage sites. The companies increasingly boast of the protection they afford to cultural issues; including the creation and support for museums that preserve the disembodied artifacts removed as a result of digging.

However, four separate issues that have come to light recently reinforce how this is still a serious problem. Two of them involve threats to ancient rock art, in Australia and in Papua New Guinea. One involves the destruction caused by quarrying to part of the famed Nazca lines in Peru, and the final involves risk caused by mining to the buddhist complex in Mes Aynak, Afghanistan.

PNG Rock Art under threat by mining exploration

ABC News

12 March 2013

Valuable Papua New Guinea rock art is under threat from mining exploration by a company associated with the Malaysian logging giant Rimbunan Hijau.

The Rimbunan Hijau affilliate, called Pristine Number 18, has applied for an exploration licence in the Karawari region of East Sepik Province..

The area contains an enormous cave art system with stencils and images that may date back as much as 20,000 years.

Nancy Sullivan is an anthropologist who's been working with the people of the region for seven years ... and with organisations like the National Geographic Society and the Guggenheim and Rockefeller Funds, to document the art.

Presenter: Jemima Garrett

Speaker: Nancy Sullivan, anthropologist

SULLIVAN: Those caves are probably the largest cave art system in the Southern hemisphere because there are 300 plus caves and maybe as many as 300 are decorated with stencils. And they are related to caves that have already been discovered and dated in Kalimantan, Borneo, and in Western Australia. So they are part of a larger swathe of migration handmarks that when people first came and populated Melanesia and down, of course, into Australasia, the migrations of the Melanesians, the first Papua New Guineans, the cultural heritage of the Karawari area, so much is at stake that we can't even assess it at this stage because we are so early on in the project.

GARRETT: So just how much of the art have you been able to document so far, and how much more is there to be recorded?

SULLIVAN: We have about 150 caves recorded and documented and what we have been doing since 2007 with a group of Papua New Guinean ethnographers and archaeologists as well as some visiting scholars is to try to create a story about this, you know a history, of, of, piece together who might have been the first people to make these stencils but importantly who continued to make these stencils because there are people who still live in the caves now, and continue to stencil, or at least have until this past generation.

GARRETT: You say the people of the area don't want exploration taking place on their land. Why?

SULLIVAN: Well they are breaking into gardening into gardening so they are becoming sedentary gardeners. We've encouraged them to plant cocoa and they have set up a village and stuff but they do not want intrusion from either neighbours or anyone from outside. They are very aware now of what it means for them not having land. as people who afre lower on the totem pole than anyone else in that whole area. They are a very small people. They are a limited group of people who are relatively under-resourced compared to their neighbours and certainly have had no government services, they know that they will be overwhelmed and exploited, not just by outsiders but by their neighbours. So they are extremely concerned that they not be intruded apon, that they will be allowed to develop their land as they want to and are content to live on it which is exactly what mining and logging, because Rimbunan Hijau, of course, is really a logging company, that has gotten into mining as a way of maintaining its health in this country because it has logged us all out. Now they are coming in tandem with gold mining exploration companies so they can take the logs out while the miners will take the gold. But that would, of course, devastate these people. They would have nowhere to go. They would have nowhere to go and no means ... at this point they have had no education, no health services other than those that we have, most recently, been able to provide. They are a completely disenfranchised population.

GARRETT: You have made a plea to the international community to oppose the issuing of this exploration licence that Pristine Number 18 has applied for. How much support are you getting?

SULLIVAN: We have in the past week already gotten a lot of attention from mining organisations and activists overseas yet we know really that it is a matter of tweaking individual people at the Mineral Resources Authority and the Mining Ministry and Byron Chan, who is actually a very savvy young man who has taken the Minstership now and we want to make them aware of what is at stake. We don't think they are aware of what is at stake. We don't think that they are interested in destroying or embarrassing the country, at this point, by destroying one of its most important sites of cultural heritage. We just think they haven't been made aware of it so we are trying to create as much noise as possible and (inaudible) upon them because it may only rest on the decision of one or two people.

GARRETT: How urgent is this issue?

SULLIVAN: It is extremely urgent because once you get an exploration company in there it is a slippery slope, you know, they will never come out. You know they will see what is there and never come out. And these people have been working so hard with us for the past seven years and we haven't yet produced a book so there is no terra firma on which they can stand and say 'this is us' and defend themselves. We are alos applying for World Heritage listing so a lot is at stake. A lot is at stake. And it is urgent because a decision can be made, to go ahead or not, within the next 2 weeks.

GARRETT: As you say once companies have spent a lot of money on exploration, if they find something it is hard to stop development. Bougainville's President, John Momis, has just drawn up draft legislation which would allow landowners to veto exploration on their land. Is that something that should be considered more broadly across Papua New Guinea?

SULLIVAN: Absolutely! Absolutely, because we learn from the Ramu Nickel case, for example, that one, ..you know, it's the proponents of investment that make things inevitable and rather than the right or wrong of the environmental impact assessment or social impact assessment, ultimately once somebody has invested enough to go for a licence, it is very hard to pull out.


Australian uranium discovery threatens ancient indigenous cave art

Globe & Mail

8 March 2013

A significant deposit has been found in a remote Australian mountain range near some of the oldest rock art on the planet

Aboriginal rock art at risk from mining - interactive map

One of the world's biggest uranium producers has found a significant deposit in a remote tropical Australian mountain range near sandstone galleries holding some of the oldest and most spectacular rock art on the planet.

After years of drilling, Canadian-based mining company Cameco has reported the find in the Wellington Range, where the thousands of Aboriginal artworks adorning cliffs and caves include a painting of the extinct dog-like creature, the thylacine, made in a style that is at least 15,000 years old.

"The importance of this art site is that it's like a library," Ronald Lamilami, a traditional Aboriginal landowner in western Arnhem Land and a custodian for the art, told The Global Mail, which on Friday published a detailed feature and map of the rock-art sites at risk nationwide. Lamilami said he fears if mining goes ahead, the works of his ancestors will be damaged.

The archaeologist Prof Paul Taçon, who has worked with Lamilami to document and date the artwork, said that dust and visitors from mining exploration could potentially damage works at the Northern Territory's Djulirri, Malarrak and Bald Rock galleries.

Uranium runs right through the Wellington Range area, and Cameco has explored close to Djulirri, although the big deposit found recently is nearer to Australia's northern coast, Taçon said.

Where once there was trenchant opposition to expanding uranium mining in Australia - which has the largest known reserves in the world - the present Labor government has softened its stance, as the resources boom feeding China's voracious appetite for energy powers the Australian economy.

When the Australian prime minister, Julia Gillard, worked through a uranium deal with India late last year, Toronto-based Cameco noted her nation could benefit from a nuclear boom in India and in China.

The company has reportedly been trying to strike a deposit in Australia as rich as that of the Athabasca Basin in its home country, which supplies about one-fifth of the world's uranium.

Djulirri, a magnificent complex where artwork ripples across cliffs, into caves and beneath overhangs, contains more than 3,000 images, including the oldest known "contact" art, a faded yellow ochre depiction of a south-east Asian boat at least 350 years old.

The rainbow serpent, fish, kangaroos and other creatures are painted in traditional "X-ray" style and the world's only known indigenous rock-art stencils depicting whole birds are silhouetted on a cave wall, while the gallery also features European missionaries, a biplane and a buggy.

At nearby Malarrak and Bald Rock galleries, there are more recent images of rifles, a coffee mug, an ocean cruiser and three stencils of a tobacco tin.

"There are rock art sites throughout the Wellington Range, but most of it still has not been adequately surveyed," said Taçon, who worries that the explorers surging across Australia as its resources boom continues will damage works never properly recorded.

There are estimated to be about 100,000 rock-art sites in Australia, with more than one million images, but there is not even a national list, let alone adequate heritage protection, according to Taçon.

Lamilami said his people are not anti-development, but the resources boom has made it apparent that mining will impact both the people and the country in Arnhem Land.

"It's spreading like a wart," he said.

Australia's environment minister, Tony Burke's office said Cameco had not yet submitted a proposal for any uranium project in the Wellington Range, but such a plan would need clearance if it was likely to have significant environmental impact.

Cameco Australia's managing director, Brian Reilly, said that the company would work with all stakeholders to protect the area's environment, culture and heritage.

Traditional owners - the Aboriginal people who own land belonging to their ancestors - review any exploration work by the company, which conducts heritage surveys to ensure these areas are protected, he said.

Meanwhile, an exploration company owned by the world's second richest woman, Gina Rinehart, has just announced that it will withdraw two applications to explore for minerals, after Aboriginal complaints that mining could damage another world-class rock art precinct in northern Queensland.

However, research by James Cook University adjunct research fellow in archaeology Noelene Cole has discovered this region, known as "Quinkan" country, is crisscrossed by similar applications. These have not been lifted.


Peru: Heavy machinery destroys Nazca lines

By Manuel Vigo

Peru This Week

14 March 2013

A group of ancient lines in the archaeological zone of Buenos Aires, in Nazca, have been destroyed by heavy machinery, El Comercio reported.

According to the daily, the machinery belongs to a firm that is removing limestone from the area.

The lines are located near kilometer marker 444 of the Panamericana Sur Highway. The area adjacent to the lines have reportedly also been affected, due to land being removed from the area.

Eduardo Herrán Gómez de la Torre, director of research at Ojos de Condor, described the extensive damage in the area. "We have witnessed the irreparable destruction to a set of lines and trapezoids that existed in the area," Herrán said.

"The limestone firm responsible has not been sanctioned or supervised by the authorities of the Regional Directorate of Culture of Ica, despite being in this great archaeological reserve."

"The company argues that the land where the plant is installed is private property and that the owner can do whatever he wants on his land, but this is not so," he added.

Mario Olaechea Aguije, Nazca's regional head of culture, said the limestone quarry was located within private property, and that the owner was free to work the land.

However, according to the daily, the private property is located within an area that was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, 18 years ago.


Afghanistan's heritage is at stake

One of the country's richest archaeological treasures sits on top of vast copper reserves now sold to the Chinese

Freddie McConnell

Independent (UK)

17 March 2013

South east of Kabul lies Logar, the latest province to backslide into the clutches of insurgency and Taliban rule. Upon the region's barren landscape sits a cluster of rocky foothills known collectively as Mes Aynak. To the Afghan and Chinese governments, Mes Aynak is the site of massive copper reserves, the world's second largest, with an estimated worth exceeding $100bn (£66bn). To others, it is a site of enormous historical importance, a settlement dating back to the Bronze Age which includes a 100-acre ancient monastery complex, and a mere 10 per cent of which has been excavated. Its destruction would see Afghan society robbed of a unique link to its rich heritage.

Decades of conflict mean Afghans have already lost countless historical artefacts from heritage sites and museums. In 2012, a single consignment handed over by the British Armed Forces to the National Museum of Afghanistan saw the return of more than 800 items that were carried illegally into the UK. This slow leak compounds catastrophic losses such as the Taliban's demolition of the 35- and 53-metre tall Buddhas of Bamiyan in 2001.

Mes Aynak is the latest piece of heritage facing an existential threat, only this time the threat is government sponsored. The Ministry of Mines sold rights to the copper reserves directly below and around the archaeological site to the Chinese state-owned China Metallurgical Group (MCC) roughly four years ago. This despite international experts repeatedly describing it, since its rediscovery in the 1960s, as a hugely important cradle of Bronze Age, Buddhist and Islamic heritage.

Mes Aynak also satisfies the criteria for becoming a Unesco World Heritage Site. Yet, unlike at Bamiyan, the process has never been initiated. Campaigners insist it is not too late. However, a valid proposal can only come from government officials, and herein lies the tragedy. No one with the power to save Mes Aynak will or, perhaps, can defy the Ministry of Mines to contact Unesco or another conservation body, such as the International Council on Monuments and Sites.

It is hard to explain how echoes of Mes Aynak's magnificence bewitch its self-appointed protectors and increasingly rare visitors. Imagine an intricate complex of Buddhist monasteries and settlements, bustling with a religious and civil life, as early as the 1st century BC, that thrived for a millennium.

Now consider these centuries of vigorous and diverse human activity lying excellently preserved, above and well below ground, mere miles from the capital. Lastly, bear in mind that general lack of access, resources and time mean that, to this day, no one knows how far the site extends or how revelatory its historical secrets could prove. The only firm conclusion to be drawn so far is that Mes Aynak represents a people's history waiting to be discovered which could, perhaps, reinforce an embattled national identity and pride.

A report released by the National Museum of Afghanistan in 2011, in collaboration with European experts, says that only 10 per cent of the Buddhist settlement has so far been excavated. Of that, much has been subject to the harsh procedures of "rescue" or "salvage" archaeology, which is necessary when time constraints and other pressures - in this case mostly security related - prevent the painstaking processes of conventional archaeology.

Expert consensus currently holds that at least 30 years is needed, from now, to carry out a satisfactory excavation of the entire site. Current rumour - for clarity and transparency have never prevailed in this process - suggests that the woefully under-resourced team on site now has only until June of this year before time is called on archaeology at Mes Aynak forever.

Yet even the relatively tiny area haphazardly excavated so far has been found bursting with archaeological treasures. A cursory glance over initial surveys shows mention of over 100 clay statues of Buddha - many measured in metres not centimetres, ornate engravings, extremely rare manuscripts and huge quantities of smaller icons, coins, pot shards and tools.

A 2012 report by the Alliance for the Restoration of Cultural Heritage (Arch), a US non-profit group, in collaboration with international experts, states that the site is "one of the most intriguing ancient mining sites in Central Asia, if not the world". It goes on: "While the Buddhist aspect is important, what makes the site special is this continuity of habitation across millennia ... Over 5,000 years old, this is a site where early technology and society unfolded."

The Arch report does acknowledge the need for economic development in the region, saying: "Mes Aynak can become a model case with a win-win outcome, pioneering methods for the extraction of resources in a way that is ecologically, culturally and historically responsible while meeting the needs of social development and the global economy." This approach would necessarily be slow and carefully managed by parties with motivations other than profit.

Documentary filmmaker Brent Huffman is one of those fighting desperately to raise awareness of Mes Aynak's historical significance before the bulldozers roll in. He has only just learnt of the rumours spreading among Afghan archaeologists working for the Ministry of Culture, that the deadline to halt excavation has been brought forward to this June. After this date, with the mining company's base camp already well established on site, it would not take long for the ancient foothills, along with their bounty of cultural heritage, to be replaced by a gargantuan hole in the ground.

Huffman's campaigning film, The Buddhas of Mes Aynak, is almost ready for release. He does not think a film alone can save Mes Aynak, but seeing the site close up changed everything for him, and he hopes if enough people are shown what is at stake, the momentum behind this issue might shift in favour of the preservation campaign. "What the film is doing is getting people to fall in love, to see why it's important and the incredible things that are found there."

Then, in a momentary capitulation to the enormity of the battle conservationists face, he admits to a humbler motivation, "at least if Mes Aynak is destroyed, I can capture it on film and provide some kind of visual record of what happened. To tell the story of Mes Aynak and the people who fought hard to try to save it."

The lack of a local champion and the overwhelming dearth of international awareness are just two of many factors fuelling Huffman's greatest fear. Namely, that Afghans themselves will never realise what they stand to lose at Mes Aynak. He says: "It's almost that Afghanistan doesn't have its own history because so much of it has been destroyed. Afghanistan could really take ownership of its history and its importance through protecting sites like Mes Aynak. It could become a point of pride for Afghans. This is how they influenced the world. That history has not been told."

When asked about heritage preservation at Mes Aynak, the Afghan Ministry for Culture and Information's responses were vague. The minister, Sayed Makhdoom Raheen, said: "We have made different suggestions to Unesco for historical sites to be included in the World Heritage list. I'm not sure about this one but there are many other sites."

A search of Unesco's site lists, both proposed and tentative, shows no references to Mes Aynak. Ministry adviser Jalal Noorani said: "There is continuing work. This department sent archaeologists to Mes Aynak. They have found some historical things ... so, we should protect these." He acknowledged the existence of a mining contract with MCC, but insisted that, "They will begin when we have finished our archaeological work. Maybe next year. We need another one year."

It is unclear how official this timescale is, but either way, it falls well short of the 30 years deemed necessary by international experts. In addition, the work Mr Noorani described fits the definition of salvage archaeology, involving the deconstruction and removal, usually to Kabul, of archaeological material. There are many artefacts and structures that on-site archeologists say are too fragile to ever be relocated.

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