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Durham University

Research & business

How we are protecting our cultural heritage

(14 December 2018)

From the Colosseum to the Dead Sea Scrolls, cultural heritage is a vital part of our identity but faces a number of threats including climate change, natural disasters, conflict and mass tourism. 

Following years of conflict, all six UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Syria are now either destroyed or badly damaged, whilst the earthquakes of 2015 destroyed many ancient cultural sites in Nepal.

At Durham, our research is at the forefront of helping to protect cultural heritage.

Professor Robin Coningham holds the position of UNESCO Chair in Archaeological Ethics and Practice in Cultural Heritage. The post has recently been renewed for a further four years, recognising the achievements to date and the wealth of future benefits this position can bring.

Protecting the past, for the future

Since 2014 Professor Coningham has worked across the globe to inform debates, research, study and practice relating to the protection of cultural heritage.

Following the devastating Nepal earthquakes in 2015, he led post-disaster archaeological investigations in the Kathmandu Valley to investigate why one of Kathmandu’s earliest buildings collapsed and to develop archaeological risk maps for reconstruction. In Sri Lanka, research and training has been carried out with the Government to develop archaeological best practice for the recording of war-damaged monuments, following years of conflict.

Professor Coningham jointly led extensive research in Nepal at Lumbini, Birthplace of the Buddha, which found evidence of the earliest Buddhist shrine in Asia. This work has gone on to inform a major exhibition at the Fo Guang Shan Buddha Museum in Taiwan, co-curated by Professor Coningham, which was visited by one million people, from 25 different countries, during the summer of 2018.

Developing best practice

Over the next four years, the research team aims to develop a range of online toolkits and handbooks for assessing the social, ethical and economic impacts of cultural heritage and protecting heritage in post-disaster environments.

Work will also focus on the relationship between community engagement and the protection of heritage sites, together with involvement in the co-design of exhibitions and workshops in the UK and world-wide.

Find out more:

  • Read more about Professor Coningham, the UNESCO Chair in Archaeological Ethics and Practice in Cultural Heritage here.
  • Discover more about the research undertaken by Professor Coningham here
  • Have a look at undergraduate and postgraduate study opportunities in the Department of Archaeology at Durham
  • Come and work for us as a researcher – take a look at our vacancies

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