Finding the Past in the Present: Connecting Maritime Archaeology and Heritage in East Asia

Independent Scholar, Germany; avm.krieger@gmail.com

East Asia has seen a stark rise in interest in its rich maritime cultural heritage over the last decades and the field of maritime archaeology and heritage continues to grow, attracting interest from a broad variety of stakeholders with sometimes differing agendas. The shared middle ground, however, is the interest in and focus on the past. But how do we connect the past with the present and subsequently the future? Preservation alone cannot be the solution because preservation as an end in itself carries the risk of becoming sterile if that which is preserved is too far removed from being understood and valued in the present. In addition, the intangible parts of the past, the experiences of those who worked the sea, are often not visible in material remains preserved today. This paper aims to delve deeper into the conundrum of connecting the past with the present and the need for a human-centered approach by briefly discussing David Lowenthal’s concept of the past as a foreign country and Christer Westerdahl’s concept of maritime cultural landscape, Tim Ingold’s concept of taskscape and Michael Shanks’ concept of archaeological imagination. After having established a theoretical framework, the paper’s main focus will then be on discussing several case studies, including experimental archaeology and ethnographic studies, museum displays, shell middens and stone fishing weirs, as means through which maritime archaeology can contribute to fostering contemporary relationships with the past and its potential for making maritime heritage tangible and sustainable in the decades to come.