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  • Social Media – Beyond the Selfies

    Several times before I’ve discussed the topic of social media and how it can be used for the positive and the negative. The positive is found in the ability to give voice to the often voiceless especially in countries where medias stay controlled. In other places like Iraq, groups like ISIS have a global reach in multiple languages by manipulating the demographics of social media’s key users, often young people.

    Photo Credit: 2015 Deutsche Welle

    However, there is another value in social media that is less often discussed. Its value as a data collection hub and tracking tool. In nations like Nepal and Japan it an be used to monitor aid need for natural disasters. In America – aside from some of the more social uses – it can be used to track political upheavals. Social media is even used as a tool for monitoring terrorism.

    Photo: Black Lives Matter #DCFerguson Protest in Washington DC. Photo Credit: Katie A. Paul, 2014

    Egypt for instance, has become a hub of technology in the Middle East. Millions of dollars from United Arab emirates have been poured into technology in Egypt making it one of the most wired countries in both the Middle East and Africa. Twitter and Facebook became famous in Egypt during the Arab Spring for their role in not only creating a gathering platform, but in sharing and revealing information that was not privy to the presses once the regime cracked down on the media and on TV and Internet output. Social media was used as a tool for the voiceless as was discussed in a previous post about 21st century freedom fighter.

    Photo: Katie Paul attending #DCFerguson protest at Capitol.

    Egyptians are not alone in their use of social media for socio-political change. In recent months, there has been a flurry of activity across the United States regarding the use of excessive force by the police in cities across the nation. I was able to participate in more than one of the  #BlackLivesMatter protests as a result of following the information by protest organizers on social media.
    Social media has gone far beyond the social and launched a society whose history and movements are forever digitally recorded in archives of the Internet.
    Visit this week’s new #AVProject entitled “Social Media: Science Beyond the Social” HERE or visit youtube.com/archaeoventurers
    Additional Reading:
  • Forgotten Legacy of WWII Wrecks- Environmental Hazard or Underwater Cultural Heritage?

    World War II was the bloodiest, deadliest and most destructive war in human history. The National WWII Museum puts battle deaths at 15 million, battle wounded at 25 million, and civilian deaths at 45 million- all unfathomable numbers to comprehend. Memories and reminders of that war are all around us, from politics to economies to cultural institutions and more. However, lying in wait on the bottom of the ocean floor are about 7800 wrecks that were involved in World War II, with 3800 of them in the Pacific Theater alone. Wrecks from WWII are significant because it was the first time where petroleum ships were specifically targeted for attack- some even say that America’s biggest contribution to winning the war was petroleum. Although oil pollution is the most noted risk from these vessels, it can also include threats from munitions, chemical wastes, radioactive materials and others. Damaging activities, both environmental and manmade, that can release these hazardous materials include dragging anchors over wrecks, dynamite fishing, shipwreck looting, more substantial/invasive archaeological methods, storms, earthquakes, and the list goes on. The amount of oil contained in these ships could be anywhere from 757 million to 6 billion gallons according to a 2005 assessment prepared by Environmental Research Consulting and others. (It should be noted that when the term ‘wreck’ is used here, it includes not only shipwrecks but also aircrafts and submarines.)

         The President of the Ocean Foundation, Mark Spalding, recently wrote a piece for National Geographic about the hazards of underwater cultural heritage (UCH) towards a healthy ocean environment. Many articles over the last two or three years have debated the issues around the potential for oil pollution from these UCH sites, as these are sites of cultural significance, and in many cases, grave sites. One of the more well known examples of oil pollution is the 1953 wreck SS Jacob Luckenbach, a supply freighter headed to Korea during the Korean War. Scientists were able to pinpoint the shipwreck after decades of questioning why sea life were being killed from oil spills with no apparent source. The cleanup from this wreck alone cost between $18-22 million. The USS Arizona, which has been leaking oil since it was attacked at Pearl Harbor in 1941, is another prominent example where multidisciplinary teams are still working to solve the same catastrophic issue.
    A gun on the deck of the sunken U-166 German submarine
         There is much debate about how to go forward, despite the simplest solution being to pump out the oil before the tanks are destroyed. No one organization controls, let alone has the ability, to survey and intervene on every potentially threatening wreck in the Ocean- a feat that is nearly impossible at the present moment, even if every organization were to intervene. In 2013, NOAA, as part of their Remediation of Underwater Legacy Environmental Threats (RULET) project, released a report that narrowed down the estimated 20K vessels in US waters down to close to 600, of which they completed 87 individual assessments. This report contained several vessels from WWII, amongst others, and found that only 36 of those posed a significant oil pollution threat and 17 are recommended for further investigation. So if you look at the number 7800 wrecks vs 36 or even 600 wrecks, there is room for debate for how imminent the problem might actually be. Although, certainly no one is arguing that these threats shouldn’t be mitigated for the more hazardous wrecks. And yet, despite all the problems highlighted here, many of these vessels have become artificial reefs where sea life and algae thrive. Plans for solving this global crisis must include measures for minimal disturbance of the sea life and their habitats. Because these UCH sites are by definition ‘underwater’, interested parties must work even harder to keep the public and ruling agencies apprised of the problems, but also these wrecks’ importance to our humanity and history. Conservationists, environmentalists, archaeologists, and others must create mediation plans for the coming years when oil pollution and other, potentially worse issues, arise from these wrecks so that history doesn’t become catastrophe.
    USS Abraham Lincoln manning rails for USS Arizona

     

  • Revising Antiquities Laws- Does it Put a Stop to Illegal Looting?

    There are many outdated laws and regulations concerning heritage and site protection around the world. However, with their recent change in government, India has recognized the necessity of revisiting their cultural resources legislation. The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has decided to push for an update to their 1972 Antiquities and Art Treasures Act (AAT). In their belief, this Act has encouraged illegal looting of Indian antiquities and has made it more difficult for legitimate persons/dealers to obtain licenses for private antiquities ownership. While there is no ban on private ownership of antiquities, one must still obtain a license/submit registration to own them. The ASI has argued that if the law is updated, the black market for illegal items will slow down, bringing more transparency to their legal domestic trade.

    The ASI has previously attempted to change the law to be more compliant with their view, but so far their efforts have been stonewalled. If the ASI were in fact able to pass a new Act or an updated version, does this actually indicate that illegal looting will subside? Or, will it merely make it easier for those persons who already want to abide by the AAT law to comply, and not in fact dissuade those looting for subsistence or other fraudulent reasons? It isn’t inconceivable that once registered, these items, because of their new transparency to the government and other dealers, will become targets for seizure by the state or museums. In that same vein, people may be persuaded by the availability of permits and amplify their search for archaeological sites and artifacts.
    To be clear, I am certainly not arguing that the ASI should not attempt to update these laws- this law created in 1972 must be revisited by Indian lawmakers and heritage managers. However, I play the devil’s advocate when I question whether or not this will in fact make a marked improvement on looting in the country. Perhaps an educational component about the economic incentive fueled by cultural tourism, in addition to the mere redrafting of legislation, would encourage those Indian citizens to become stewards of their own heritage, instead of incentivizing them to own/sell. 
  • An Opinion on Ocean Threats

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    image via transhmanian devil

    In the New York Times ‘Swimming Through Garbage‘, ocean advocate and maritime lawyer, Lewis Pugh, comments that no matter where he swims on our globe, he is swimming through piles of trash- plastic, tires, diapers, bottles- you name it. As a United Nations Patron for the Oceans, he clearly illustrates the idyllic picture of how abundant oceanic wildlife used to be at Columbus’ time (no coincidence that today is Columbus Day), where the sea was ‘thick’ with turtles. When compared to present day, we must reference the Endangered Species Act (1973), which lists approximately 2,195 species on the endangered list. He is rightfully worried that in the next half-life, as more nations become developed and non-renewable resources are in higher demand, we will lose what little this Earth has left. If “an estimated 100 million sharks are fished out of the world’s oceans every year,” and we examine from now until 2030 – approx. ~15 years from now- that is One Billion Five Hundred Million sharks! In his view, the only way we will be able to limit this expansion, and perhaps reverse this alarming process, is through the creation of more marine protected areas (like NOAA National Marine Sanctuaries or PERSGA areas in Red Sea and Gulf of Aden). His ‘Seven Seas Expedition’ is “urging policy makers to protect at least 10% of our seas in a network of well managed and well designed Marine Protected Areas that represent the full range of marine life in our oceans.” I couldn’t agree more…

    As a relatively young diver myself, I have never scuba dived on a healthy reef, either for work or for play. One of my greatest laments as a diver has been that I cannot share in the same experiences of yesteryear with my colleagues who have been diving for decades, who constantly regale me with stories of healthy ecosystems and picturesque reefs. Also, my greatest marine animal experience has been at the Georgia Aquarium, a completely artificial environment, where I dove amongst four whale sharks. This was a fantastic experience, but not compared to diving off the coast of Mozambique or Indonesia and encountering the gentle giants in their natural habitat!  I remember my aquarium dive buddy commenting, ‘thank god we’ve had this opportunity- imagine flying half way across the world to maybe see something this spectacular’. She made that comment because there is no more guarantee that divers or anyone else trying to admire submerged natural beauty, will actually encounter these marine treasures- with fewer chances as time goes on. In fact, we dedicate a whole program as part of Youth Diving With a Purpose, to the Coral Restoration Foundation which “leads the development of offshore nursery and restoration methods to preserve unique genetic lineages of staghorn and elkhorn coral for research and restoration purposes,” which are both endangered.

    It’s small outlets of hope like CRF or Ocean Conservancy, that foster innovation and strategic planning for the possibility that our generation can reverse this unstoppable process. I concur with Pugh’s conclusion, and urge the public to get behind initiatives like those mentioned here, and to help create more global MPAs.  If we want our children to experience the same jaw-dropping moments in the water that we have had the privileges to engage, then we must advocate for more marine protected environments.
  • Treasure Hunter Barry Clifford: ‘Santa Maria’ Access Denied

    Here is an update to my post about Barry Clifford, the treasure hunter who discovered the Whydah and ‘discoverer‘ of what he believes to be Christopher Columbus’ flagship, the Santa Maria.

    This post is also featured on The Antiquities Coalition blog posted on Monday, July 14th 2014.

    On July 7, the Haitian Minister of Culture, Monique Rocourt, publicly stated that the Haitian Government has revoked the permit of famed treasure hunter Barry Clifford’s on the alleged Santa Maria site. When the discovery news first went public back in May 2014, UNESCO was asked for
    Barry Clifford’s photograph of the alleged Santa Maria
    wreck. Credit: CNN



    Minister Rocourt also pointed out that although Clifford had announced to the public that he had discovered this site, it had actually previously been studied by the University of Florida back in the 1970s-80s. Maritime archaeologists – trained academics and scientists – who don’t harbor the same focus on profit and fame over proper research, would have done their due diligence by conducting a full research analysis and likely have left Christopher Columbus out of the equation, until there was concrete proof of this allegation.
    As to the ‘state of emergency’ invoked by Clifford concerning this site, the Haitian Government and UNESCO have also rejected this claim, as the wreck remains protected by the natural elements and sediments, meaning immediate danger is not imminent. Doing a full excavation would do more harm than good in both the short and long term. The Council has cautiously recommended that some archaeological fieldwork will continue on this site but only under the auspices of UNESCO’s technical assistance. Their team will likely survey the site in August of this year.
    This is an example of what many maritime archaeologists face – their efforts are not only focused on research but on struggling to counteract the claims and extensive financial flows of treasure hunters worldwide. It is governments in the developing world that need to recognize the difference between claims of grandeur and hard scientific fact. Even small decisions to restrict actions by alleged archaeologists; help foster a scientific and knowledgeable environment.

    Treasure Hunter Barry Clifford discussing his ‘discovery’
    on CNN. Credit: World News

    This situation becomes even more interesting beyond the Santa Maria discovery. A simple news search shows that media coverage of this decision has only been covered by Haitian or foreign language media outlets. Once the initial announcement via the mass media was released in May to the American press, there has been little to no coverage of these developments since May in English-language outlets.
    This illustrates a trend in American sensationalist media where only the exciting or provoking news is made public, while the follow-up stories that are grounded in reality, are forgotten or dismissed. If the American public were able to know about why Clifford’s permit was revoked or why treasure hunters and archaeologists are ethically at odds, it would foster a new thoughtful perspective on cultural resources management and site preservation. The media is an integral part in spreading awareness of issues surrounding our cultural resources.  

     their technical assistance to determine the validity of Clifford’s claims and assess his permit and archaeological methods. UNESCO has since determined that the methodology and diver team employed by Clifford does not comply with the standards set by the Scientific Council of the UNESCO Convention.