“Reclaiming, restoring and celebrating our heritage” is the theme for this year’s Heritage Month. As part of the mandate of the South African Heritage Resources Agency (SAHRA), Maritime and Underwater Cultural Heritage (MUCH) unit is committed to working towards the protection and promotion of our underwater culture. “Because of the oxygen depleted environment, material contained within underwater archaeological sites has a high degree of preservation. In contrast, material from land archaeological sites has often been broken,
destroyed or intentionally discarded over a period of time. Through the investigation of underwater archaeological sites, archaeologists are able to gather new information about the past, which is not always available from other sources.

The remains of settlements and the wrecks of ships are providing a mass of steadily accumulating, new information about the past”, Shawn Berry said on Monday, 26 August, when he addressed representatives of the local diving community. The event was organised with the help of Daniel Rogers of Adventure’s Edge Dive and Training Centre in Mossel Bay.

Maritime history

South Africa has an extensive maritime history and numerous indigenous sites relating to water bodies. Historically, South African occupied a unique position with regard to world shipping routes, situated approximately halfway between the trade centres of Western Europe and the markets in the East. With documentary evidence indicating some 3 000 historical shipwrecks littered around the extensive coastline, South Africa is home to one of the largest and most diverse historical shipwreck resources in the world. “Shipwreck resource is of huge scientific,
cultural, historical, archaeological national and international value. Protecting South African heritage resources becomes a much easier task when stakeholders are aware of the importance of these sites and have an opportunity to share what they deem to be their heritage,” Mr Berry said.

He added, “Maritime archaeology investigates people’s connection with the sea and other related maritime activities and the ways in which humans used the world’s waterways from earliest times. As such, a wide range of sites are studied. “Of particular importance in the Mossel Bay
area are the shell middens in the area, said to be more than 100 000 years old, amongst the oldest evidence worldwide for marine exploitation by humans, which represent possibly the oldest pre-colonial technology still in use today.”

Awareness campaign


The main objectives for the Awareness Raising Campaign are to establish connections with potential partners, creating awareness and also to conduct site inspections of MUCH heritage resources which may be under threat. What SAHRA would like from its potential partners is a commitment to engage in discussions around heritage, as well as a willingness to share in promoting their heritage through participation. The Awareness Raising Campaign aimed to discuss ways in which SAHRA can work with various agencies to protect and promote maritime and underwater cultural heritage sites. “The response has been positive all around and these meetings have created new, and strengthened existing partnerships.”