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Archaeology has community benefits in Vietnam

Local people, authorities and archaeologists will both spiritually and materially benefit from a "community archaeology" model, according to participants at a recent conference in the central province of Thanh Hoa.

Archaeologists at an excavation site in Khuoi Nang Cave in the northern province of Ha Giang, where various traces of prehistoric human beings have been found. — VNA/VNS Photo Thanh Ha

Thai specialist Boonyarit Chaisuwan gave an example of the Phu Khao Thong archaeological site, located 71km north of Bangkok, where local thieves used to excavate antiques to sell.

"When we reached the site, we were amazed because there were 2,000-year-old antiques scattered all over the site," Chaisuwan said, "The thieves just took the gold and left the rest there."

"We decided to educate local people about their heritage," he said pointing at a photo featuring local students listening attentively to a lecturer. Beside the students were souvenirs made by locals to sell to tourists.

"So, from the Phu Khao Thong site, which means ‘Golden Mountain' in English, locals have learnt to earn money without having to dig," he said.

"Tourists flock to see the site, where locals can talk for hours on the archaeological heritage and sell souvenirs. Locals understand that their livelihoods are secure as long as the site is protected."

According to Nguyen Giang Hai, general secretary of the Viet Nam Archaeology Association, community archaeology was still a fairly new concept in Viet Nam. "But there are still reputed examples," he said.

Pham Van Hung from Ha Noi and Nguyen Cao Lu from the northern province of Ninh Binh are good examples of locals who have spared no efforts in protecting local archaeological sites.

Hung has worked with local people to prevent looting at the Vuon Chuoi archaeological site, where traces of Dong Son Culture (2,000BC-200AD) and even older dynasties were discovered in 1994.

Lu became interested in the subject after reading books on archaeology belonging to his son, and since then, he has discovered 22 caves with traces of early human life in Ninh Binh which he has reported to local scientists.

"Archaeological sites in Viet Nam are often located in residential areas, so most are discovered by chance by local people," said Lam Thi My Dung, deputy chairperson of the Viet Nam Archaeology Association, "We say that in Viet Nam, locals are the eyes and ears of archaeologists."

Lu came to the conclusion that community archaeology should be the "people's archaeology".

Archaeologist Rasmi Shoocongdep from Thailand said that communication was the most important thing in community archaeology.

"We reported our finds using simple language instead of professional terms so that locals could understand," he said.

Vietnamese archaeologist Le Hai Dang from the Viet Nam Archaeology Institute agreed with his Thai colleague.

"We should organise workshops at the excavation sites, rather than bringing artefacts to far-away meeting halls," he said.

Archaeologist Nishimurra Masanari from Japan said community archaeology had been introduced in schools in his country, where students were given various parts of a broken jar and asked to put them back together, following the styles of certain historical periods.

"With minimal expense, community archaeology has been introduced in schools and merged with subjects such as history and fine arts," he said, "Viet Nam can do the same."

Im Sokrithy from the National Conservation Centre in Siem Reap, Cambodia, insisted that such systematic heritage protection required assistance from local authorities.

"In order to protect Angkor Wat, authorities have helped locals relocate, and provided them with housing and land with proper infrastructure."

Pham Sanh Chau, secretary general of the Viet Nam National Commission for UNESCO, said that the methods of conducting community archaeology discussed at the conference were similar to those recommended by UNESCO.

According to a UNESCO convention in 2003 on protecting intangible heritage, a heritage is only recognised by the organisation when the local community agrees and participates in the protection process.

UNESCO educates all levels of people on cultural, archaeological and artistic heritage.

UNESCO also facilitates the creation jobs for both locals and people living near the sites.

"These sentiments work well in Viet Nam because Vietnamese people have a high community spirit," he said.

Source: Viet Nam News [December 25, 2010]

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