2020 Session 7

Session 7: Submerged War Heritage in the Asia-Pacific Region


While evidence of conflict in the Asia-Pacific Region dates back thousands of years, World War II brought more people into contact with the seas of the Asia-Pacific region than ever before and left a correspondingly large archaeological signature. Today, the ship and plane wrecks, maritime infrastructure and underwater dumping sites from WWII present an archaeological resource of conflicting values ranging from artificial reefs and tourism assets, to war-graves and even ecological threats. Most recently, the different values placed on these sites has been thrown into sharp relief with the illegal salvage of a number of naval ships in South-East Asia and subsequent outcry from former colonial powers.

Maritime warfare throughout the Asia-Pacific Region has had a far-reaching impact on the people who lived, and continue to live in these areas that goes beyond the mere recording of battlefields and the machinery involved. Maritime archaeology has significant potential to provide insights into the lives and experiences of those who have been overlooked by traditional war histories including non-combatants and indigenous people.

The protection and management of World War II-related Underwater Cultural Heritage (WWII UCH) provides particular challenges in the contemporary Asia-Pacific Region. While the 2001 UNESCO Convention provides a code for internationally recognised best practice, most countries in the region are yet to become signatories. Many countries in Oceania in particular see the current interest in WWII UCH as overshadowing the need to protect and preserve indigenous UCH. A potentially useful framework that could be used to provide a balance in interests and benefits for more of the Asia-Pacific community is the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals that provide a holistic and relevant path for incorporating all UCH into sustainable environmental and development policies and practices. This should lead to an appreciation of all that constitutes Asia-Pacific UCH and their particular challenges.


Session Organisers:

Matt Carter
Research Director

Bill Jeffery, PhD
Assistant Professor, Anthropology
University of Guam

Hans Van Tilburg, PhD
Maritime Heritage Coordinator
Pacific Islands Region, NOAA, Hawai`i