My name is Tara Van Niekerk and I’m all the way from the beautiful Republic of South Africa. It truly has been a privilege to participate in the UNESCO Foundation Course taking place on the sleepy island of St. Eustatius in the Dutch Caribbean. Being from what seems to be the odd country out, it has been amazing to be welcomed so completely into the world of all these wonderful people and learn about archaeology in the Caribbean.
You may ask why would someone from South Africa be participating in a course with a focus on Caribbean archaeology, but it is pleasantly surprising to realise how similar the two regions are. South Africa is considered to be one of the priority countries for mutual heritage by the Netherlands as it was once, like many of the islands in the Caribbean, a former Dutch colony during the 16th to late 17th centuries. There are many cultural heritage sites both on land and underwater that are considered to be shared heritage with the Netherlands. As a Heritage officer working for the South African Heritage Resources Agency, it is my job to help manage and promote this diverse maritime and underwater cultural heritage.
South Africa has a rich maritime history with close to 3000 underwater cultural heritage sites, with quite a few of these being shipwrecks of Dutch nationality. Sites older than 60 years are currently protected by the National Heritage Resources Act 25 of 1999 but there is still room for improvement in protecting our UCH sites. Recently approval was given in Parliament for the accession of the 2001 UNESCO Convention on Underwater Cultural Heritage which has been an important step in the right direction for the professionals in the Maritime Archaeology field and the protection of our UCH.
The UNESCO course has therefore been a valuable source toward the work that we do and has allowed me to learn more about the different aspects of heritage resource management around the world. Through topical discussions such as the UNESCO convention, site significance assessment and management, data management we have been pushed to think about the different needs within our own country. It has been an intensive few weeks with both class room work and field work but I can say that I will go away from it having built on my previous experience, refreshing some of my skills and having learnt many new skills. I am truly grateful to our instructors Martijn and Chris for this opportunity and would like to thank everyone involved in the organisation of the course.
Tara Van Niekerk
Heritage Officer Maritime and Underwater Cultural Heritage Unit South African Heritage Resources Agency SAHRA