Archaeological experts from Durham University, including UNESCO Chair in Archaeological Ethics and Practice in Cultural Heritage, Professor Robin Coningham, have been invited by the Nepalese Government to join an international team undertaking a six week, post-disaster rescue-survey in the three great Durbar Squares within the Kathmandu Valley. UNESCO is funding the mission.
Professor Coningham, whose research focus is in Nepal, and is therefore well suited to undertake the rescue and survey excavations in the damaged medieval city squares of Patan, Hanuman Dhoka and Bhaktapur, before the area is rebuilt said:
“This project offers archaeological expertise in the post-disaster recovery effort for Nepal, not only affording the opportunity of identifying earlier cultural phases of human activity in the Kathmandu Valley, of which there is a current paucity of evidence, but also mitigating the risk, and affording protection to subsurface heritage, prior to the post-disaster reconstruction of these World Heritage Sites”.
The 7.8 magnitude earthquake which hit Nepal in April this year, causing over 8,000 fatalities, devastated large areas of country and neighbouring regions, including the destruction of Nepal’s unique monuments within the Kathmandu Valley UNESCO World Heritage Site of Outstanding Universal Value.
Using Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) technology, the team will be able to map a detailed layout of archaeological features such as walls and buildings below the surface, and evaluate the subsurface stratigraphy. This will be critical for guiding the laying of new service infrastructure, informing the construction of new foundations for the collapsed monuments, and protecting key elements of Kathmandu’s underground heritage for future generations.
The monuments of the Kathmandu Valley were not only a major source of income and economic growth through national and international tourism for the local residents and a key source of foreign currency in Nepal, they also held significant spiritual value, as places of worship for the residents who ‘reach out and commune with their guiding goddesses and gods’ through these temples.
The UNESCO Chair seeks to develop debates, policies and toolkits to evaluate the economic, ethical and social impacts of cultural heritage, strengthen its protection in crisis, and prevent its use to exacerbate differences and tensions.