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Durham University

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Publication details for UNESCO Professor Robin Coningham

Davis, C.E., Coningham, R.A.E., Acharya, K.P., Kunwar, R.B., Forlin, P., Weise, K., Maskey, P.N., Joshi, A., Simpson, I.A., Toll, D., Wilkinson, S., Hughes, P., Sarhosis, V., Kumar, A. & Schmidt, A. (2020). Identifying archaeological evidence of past earthquakes in a contemporary disaster scenario: Case-studies of damage, resilience and risk reduction from the 2015 Gorkha Earthquake and past seismic events within the Kathmandu Valley UNESCO World Heritage Property (Nepal). Journal of Seismology 24(4): 729-751.

Author(s) from Durham


The 2015 Gorkha Earthquake was a humanitarian disaster but also a cultural catastrophe that damaged and destroyed historic monuments across Nepal, including those within the Kathmandu Valley UNESCO World Heritage Property. In the rush to rebuild, traditionally constructed foundations are being removed and replaced with modern materials without assessments of whether these contributed to the collapse of a monument. Generally undertaken without scientific recording, these interventions have led to the irreversible destruction of earlier subsurface phases of cultural activity and the potential loss of evidence for successful traditional seismic adaptations and risk reduction strategies, with no research into whether modern materials, such as concrete and steel, would offer enhanced resilience. In response to this context, multidisciplinary post-disaster investigations were undertaken between 2015 and 2018, including archaeological excavation, geophysical survey, geoarchaeological analysis, linked to architectural and engineering studies, to begin to evaluate and assess the damage to, and seismic adaptations of, historic structures within Nepal’s Kathmandu Valley. Where possible, we draw on archaeoseismological approaches for the identification and classification of Earthquake Archaeological Effects (EAEs) at selected monuments damaged by the 2015 Gorkha Earthquake. Lessons learned from evidence of potential weaknesses, as well as historic ‘risk-sensitive tactics’ of hazard reduction within monuments, are now being incorporated into reconstruction and rehabilitation initiatives alongside the development of methods for the protection of heritage in the face of future earthquakes.