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"Laws and Policies for the Protection of Underwater Cultural Heritage in Korea", or how is underwater archaeology "done" in East Asia?

This is what the students of the Postgraduate Course “Underwater Archaeology” and all those who came on Sunday noon to the Columned Hall of the Faculty of History of the University of Warsaw found out on 20 October 2019. Dr Young-Hwa Jung from the National Research Institute of Maritime Cultural Heritage of the Republic of
Published: November 9, 2019 - 18:08
Updated: July 22, 2023 - 18:48
“Laws and Policies for the Protection of Underwater Cultural Heritage in Korea”, or how is underwater archaeology “done” in East Asia?

This is what the students of the Postgraduate Course “Underwater Archaeology” and all those who came on Sunday noon to the Columned Hall of the Faculty of History of the University of Warsaw found out on 20 October 2019. Dr Young-Hwa Jung from the National Research Institute of Maritime Cultural Heritage of the Republic of Korea was the guest of the Department of Underwater Archaeology of the IA UW and the Polish Branch of The Explorers Club.

What is the answer to this question, in the title, posed so boldly?

In military terms: spectacular, professional and… rich. And with an exceptionally bold vision for the future. And the sites, objects and monuments that our colleagues from the Far East are developing are breathtaking.

Photo: Aleksander Kozłowski (3)

The presentation initially took us back to the not-so-distant past – as its subtitle announced: ’40 Years of Korean Underwater Archaeology’. Although the forerunners are important, the Institute itself, represented by Dr. Young-Hua Jung, has been conducting underwater research since 2002 and, of course, can boast numerous successes. In measurable terms: 14 historic wrecks and around 120,000 artefacts have been excavated so far. Currently, Young-Hua and colleagues are the only institution in Korea that conducts underwater research, funded entirely by the Republic government. They focus their activities on maritime cultural heritage, but in a comprehensive way: they conduct excavations, archival research, conservation, organise exhibitions, education and promotion and dissemination of content related to the region’s maritime archaeology. They are also involved in didactics in the strict sense – NRIMCH is the only institute in South Korea that trains underwater archaeologists and develops equipment and research methodology. As I stressed at the beginning of the text – the amounts of investment in research and development of the field, cited by Dr Young-Hua Jung, are staggering. The same applies to access to technology and equipment – the Institute has several ultra-modern research units (equipped, among others, with the absolutely fabulous Crabster underwater vehicle, described earlier on the portal) and the only laboratory in the whole of South Korea, adapted to the conservation of large-scale wooden relics, including ship hulls.

Photo: Jacek Twardowski (2)

The Institute does not limit itself to underwater archaeology – it also works on land-based sites associated with maritime culture (such as ports), which are often threatened by urbanisation processes. It is also involved in experimental maritime archaeology – the cultivation and restoration of maritime traditions, including the construction of ancient Korean vessels using traditional boat-building methods (five have been reconstructed since 2008) and then testing them for navigation methods during voyages.

The Taean Maritime Museum’s exhibitions are an exciting tour of underwater sites, including authentic preserved wrecks, and the maritime history of the region. Some of the exhibitions are specially designed for children, and they are not limited to the indoors either: the researchers invite you to the open-air archaeological park, where you can see, among other things, the aforementioned reconstructions.

Photo: Jacek Twardowski (3)

NRIMCH places great emphasis on international cooperation – which also resulted in the visit of Dr Young-Hua Jung. In August 2019, Mokpo, the organisation’s headquarters city, hosted the Whole Assembly of Global Experts on Underwater Cultural Heritage conference, where Koreans brought together distinguished experts from around the world for a lecture hall. Underwater archaeologist from the University of Warsaw, Magdalena Nowakowska, who was the spiritus movens of the Korean colleague’s visit to Warsaw, was also invited to participate in this event.

Very positively surprised by the amount of investment, plans for the future include intensifying research into the remains of the naval warfare from the time of the Japanese invasion of Korea in the South Sea and prospecting areas related to the 16th century naval battle of Myeongnyang, as well as further development of the exhibition area. “Korea will be a global pioneer in maritime cultural studies,” promised Dr Young-Hua Jung, and we, looking with envy at the funds the Korean government is investing in underwater archaeology and the degree of professionalism that has been implemented there, plus the fantastic finds (which can be seen on the NRIMCH website and in the publications Young-Hua has gifted to the Institute of Archaeology at the UW and the Diving Museum in Warsaw!) take his word for it!

Photo: Aleksander Kozłowski, Jacek Twardowski

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About author

Goka
Kulturoznawca i archeolog podwodna związana z Uniwersytetem Warszawskim. Realizatorka i uczestniczka licznych projektów archeologicznych, niestrudzona popularyzatorka nauki.
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