Editorial WB14


This issue of the Bulletin does two important things. First, it sees the publication of President Martin Hall’s ideas about what WAC is and does, and where it should head in the immediate future. This is a critical matter for the organization as it heads into the new millennium. Martin’s proposals have been thoroughly discussed by the Officers and with Peter Ucko, and I ask all members to give the issues serious attention. Martin’s piece makes reference to the Ilisu Dam in Turkey, a subject often addressed in the Bulletin, and a letter from Martin to the Council of Europe regarding the dam follows his statement about WAC’s future. A longer piece about Ilisu by Maggie Ronayne will appear in the next Bulletin. I note, though, that the UK company Balfour Beatty, its Italian partner Impreglio and the Union Bank of Switzerland have now withdrawn from the Ilisu project as a result of the efforts of WAC and many other groups to highlight the project’s problems.

The second important feature of this issue is that it heralds the publication of the introductory chapters of Routledge’s One World Archaeology (OWA) volumes. In addition to providing an ensured supply of quality copy for the journal, it is hoped the dissemination of the chapters in this manner will help spread the word about the OWA series, about WAC’s endeavours and about Routledge’s very great assistance with our efforts over the years.

The first OWA volume to be showcased is The Dead and their Possessions: repatriation in principle, policy and practice. It is thus a happy coincidence that this issue also brings news of the long-awaited and much-publicized return of Sara (Saartjie) Baartman’s remains from Paris to South Africa. This welcome development renders Fforde and Hubert’s (this volume) observation that “the Museé de l’Homme in Paris does not allow the return of named individuals, such as Sara Baartman to South Africa…or Vaimaca Pirú to Uruguay…” at least partly obsolete. The ungracious might think that the return ultimately had less to do with emerging ‘best-practice’ repatriation policy than with the inconvenience of having to find new homes for controversial material now that the Museé de l’Homme is being disestablished. I am not going to quibble about motives, though, if it means people are returned home when it is requested. I would rather congratulate the French on the move and concentrate on seeing the rest of the extraordinary collections in Paris appropriately cared for. Nick Shepard’s observations in this issue regarding the 2001 Mapping Alternatives conference in Cape Town takes off from Sara’s return to discuss other matters concerning South Africa’s heritage.

Another recent ‘win’ of a similar nature in France concerns the decision by the incoming French Government to reconsider plans for a new Paris airport in the Somme Valley. This region was the scene of unspeakable slaughter during the First World War. Hundreds of thousands of war-dead are buried in the Somme and surrounding areas, including one of my great-grandfathers, who was among the great many Australians killed on the Western Front. There was international agitation against the airport by those concerned about the proposed destruction of war graves, but it seems it was local French objections to noise and the like which actually stopped the development (a local mayor is also the new national Minister for Transport). I am very glad it happened. I cannot imagine what a constant stream of aircraft movements would do to a visit to the Windmill at Pozieres (http://users.netconnect.com.au/~ianmac/pozieres.html) or the Australian Memorial at Villiers Bretonneux, near Amiens (http://www.dyadel.net/~landos.y/memorial.htm). I wonder, though, if media focus on the issue has had any positive effect on the generally skeptical and sometimes still hostile views of many ‘middle Australians’ towards Indigenous people’s concerns about cultural patrimony. I hope that some, at least, would make the connection.

Finally, I relay disturbing news from João Zilhão in Lisbon regarding the closure of the Instituto Português de Arqueologia (IPA). As underlined by João’s contributions in the last issue of the Bulletin, the Instituto has been centrally involved in the preservation of the palaeolithic rock art threatened by the damming of the Côa Valley. It is puzzling that the Portuguese government would chose the course of action João describes below. It may just be another sign of our times, when governments with little knowledge of and less interest in archaeology and cultural heritage pay no heed to professional advice and continue to make short-sighted, politically-expedient decisions about these sensitive matters. Perhaps this trend is tied to the much-remarked ‘turn to the right’ in Western liberal democracies, which has seen Centre-Left and Centre-Right administrations adopting elements of Far Right agendas to mute the electoral impact of such odious characters as Jean-Marie Le Pen in France and Pauline Hanson in Australia. I urge all readers to make representations to the Portuguese Government about the matter.