New Antarctic Archaeology Guidelines Prepared


The ICOMOS International Polar Heritage Committee (IPHC) has identified the need for Antarctic Archaeology Guidelines to ensure that information on international best practice standards is available to Antarctic managers and researchers.

Please find a PDF of the draft Guidelines here.

Antarctica presents a unique situation regarding the mechanisms of research and conservation. It is governed through the Antarctic Treaty System (ATS) which brings together 29 of the worlds 195 nations to develop a consensually agreed governance regime based on peace, science and environmental stewardship that is implemented through national party actions regulated by their own legislative and administrative systems. All territorial claims are in abeyance under the terms of the Antarctic Treaty. Antarctic nations cooperate to ensure that their decisions are respected but enforcement is vague. The Antarctic Treaty System, not being based on sovereign government territorial controls, is not associated with UNESCO and the World Heritage Convention is not applicable. While Treaty parties can choose individually to utilise UNESCO and other international standards, or their own domestic legal standards when regulating their citizens’ Antarctic endeavours, there are no overarching agreed standards controlling archaeology, or heritage conservation generally, across the continent.

The IPHC Antarctic Archaeology Guidelines are an attempt to provide a set of standards targeted at Antarctic conditions and that unique governance context.

Antarctic archaeology is the focus of these guidelines rather than Antarctic heritage conservation and management as a whole, for two reasons. Firstly, while it is recognised that archaeological value (as a scientific value) is usually just one aspect of the overall suite of values of a cultural heritage site, a large proportion of the sites of past human activity in Antarctica have substantial archaeological expression. The archaeological record requires specialised methodologies for its study and, if justified, protection, that are sufficiently distinct from other methods applied to the conservation of formal Antarctic Historic Sites and Monuments (HSMs) to warrant a specific set of principles and practices as outlined in these Guidelines. Secondly, the study of sites with archaeological research potential in Antarctica can involve research approaches that are not necessarily related to heritage conservation programs or objectives. An example is the extensive archaeological research carried out at the early nineteenth-century sealing campsites in the South Shetland Islands over the last twenty years, yet none of the ATS Party nations has undertaken any action to list or conserve any of these sites. The guidelines also provide principles for the systematic inclusion of archaeological site assessment within the environmental impact assessment system operating within Antarctica. One of the limiting factors in the implementation of a robust heritage regime in Antarctica has always been seen as cost. Yet the 29 Treaty parties, while representing just 15% of the World’s nations, contain 55% of its population and 80% of world global GDP. This is the rich end of town, and it is hoped that the Guidelines are adopted by managers as an accessible and applicable set of standards that help them in carrying out their stewardship obligations.

The draft Guidelines have been circulated to ICOMOS committees and working groups and are scheduled for final adoption next year. Comments and inputs are however welcomed, as the Guidelines are designed to be updated to maintain their currency. Comments can be sent to Dr Michael Pearson at [email protected].