Orkney hosts conference linking past to future sustainability
Experts from around the world will gather in Orkney next week (29-31 May) to explore how we can use lessons from the past to help deal with future sustainability issues.
How did ancient peoples cope with tsunamis, floods and droughts? What really happened on Easter Island? How can we make best use of our heritage in the future? Does the past matter? How did people first find and occupy Orkney?
These are some of the questions that will be aired at the University of the Highlands and Islands’ international conference ‘Sustainability and Heritage: How can the past contribute to a sustainable future?’
Leaders from archaeology and other disciplines from around the world - including Easter Island, USA and Iceland - will be sharing their knowledge on how people confronted and dealt with issues such as environmental change in the past, and what lessons we might take from past societies.
The conference will also look at how communities around the world are working to preserve heritage in the face of factors such as coastal erosion arising from climate change – an issue of current concern in Orkney where coastline is regularly exposed to the full force of North Sea and Atlantic storms.
The conference is being led by archaeologists from Orkney College UHI and a team from the Universities of Stirling, Bradford and City University, New York. It’s also being supported by Historic Scotland, Orkney Islands Council, GHEA (the Global Human Ecodynamics Alliance), ORCA Marine and the Scapa Flow Landscape Partnership Scheme.
The event will also explore the value heritage holds for rural and remotes communities aiming to develop sustainable economies, and how sites can be developed and accessed by tourists.
Uses of new technology to record sites rapidly will also be revealed.
Educators from Greenland, Iceland, Barbuda, Easter Island, Orkney and across the UK who are part of the global network GHEA - a body which aims to promote heritage education and its potential to raise awareness about future sustainability issues - will share their experiences, using examples of eroding coastal heritage sites as illustrations and lessons about the impact of climate and environmental change.
There are many projects offering such lessons in Orkney. Last year, archaeology teams from the University of the Highlands and Islands and Bradford and City University created a field school to dig an eroding site in the island of Rousay, spanning 1,000 years of prehistory and climate change. The dig was part of the international Gateway to the Atlantic Project which is aimed at uncovering sustainability and survival strategies in the past.
Jane Downes, head of archaeology at Orkney College UHI said the conference is a unique event: “We are looking at what a difference heritage can make to the world, from a whole range of different perspectives.
“Hosting the conference in Orkney provides an example of a community to which heritage is very important economically and where a rich archaeological resource which is very visibly disappearing into the sea.”
“The research that Orkney College UHI archaeologists are undertaking in the Orkney World Heritage Site has exposed researchers to the same kind of concerns surrounding other World Heritage Sites, with Easter Island another example where heritage is central to the economy.
“The issues faced by people in Orkney and Easter Island, in terms of visitor pressure on monuments and coastal erosion, are very similar. This conference will promote discussion around how sites are researched and managed in two very different places and best practice will be shared.”
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