Archaeological Landscapes Monitoring Group
Military conflicts always cause irreparable damage to nature and culture, which is reflected in ecological and humanitarian disasters, the devaluation of human life, and the destruction of cultural heritage. During the war, cultural heritage becomes one of the most vulnerable segments of social life. The goals of Putin’s war against Ukraine is not only the seizure of its territory and subjugation of the people, but also the destruction of Ukrainians’ identity, history and public memory. In these conditions, objects of cultural heritage become a special target for the enemy.
At the same time, the consequences of hostilities are particularly devastating for archaeological sites, given the non-restorability of archaeological objects, the inextricable connection of these sites with the landscape and ecological environment, and the universal nature of the information that can be obtained during research. As a result of the unprovoked aggression by the russian federation, we are witnessing the large-scale destruction of historical landscapes, thousands of archaeological sites that were in the process of research or were not even opened yet were damaged. Currently, cultural heritage protection activities in Ukraine are focused mainly on “visible” heritage objects, such as architectural monuments, religious and historical buildings, and objects of monumental art.
On the other hand, monitoring the state of archaeological heritage objects faces certain difficulties. Their search and recognition is much more difficult, because they exist in an “unmanifested state”. The vast majority of archaeological sites are not included in the lists of monuments of cultural heritage, and the necessary complex of monument protection measures is not applied to its territories. The specificity of archaeological monuments is that their discovery is often directly related to catastrophic events, and in this case – the destruction of landscapes as a result of military operations.
Challenges for archaeological heritage during wartime
The most significant, dominant formations of the historical landscape suffer the greatest damage due to the active use of convenient locations for the construction of modern fire and defense positions. Among the significant challenges for Ukrainian archaeology should be mentioned the use of archaeological sites as military objects, illegal excavations in the occupied territories, looting of regional museums and increased sale of archaeological objects. During the russian attack and occupation of a part of the territory of Ukraine, the activities of criminal groups became especially active, the purpose of which is to illegally obtain archaeological objects with the subsequent sale and filling of private collections both in Ukraine and abroad.
Among the main factors that negatively affect the state of archaeological heritage should be mentioned:
– destructions related to the direct conduct of military operations (bombing, missile and mortar fire), which led to landscape transformations;
– destructions associated with the arrangement of military objects (dungeons, firing points, observation posts, trenches, etc.), which led to the destruction of monuments or their parts;
– destructions associated with the use of archaeological monuments (burial mounds, ramparts, ditches, hillforts) as modern military facilities;
– destructions associated with illegal excavations of archaeological heritage sites with subsequent looting, illegal removal of archaeological objects from context;
– destructions associated with the looting of archaeological collections during hostilities;
– acts of vandalism.
Chernihiv, Shestovytsia cemetery of the 10th-11th cent. BC. The “Princely” barrow was damaged because of the bombing, March, 2022. As a result of massive shelling, medieval architecture from the time of Kyivan Rus, religious buildings and a significant number of archaeological sites in the city itself and in the surrounding area were damaged.
Photo by Serhii Tarabarov.
It should be emphasized that the actions that lead to the destruction of historical landscapes are conducted from both sides. However, due to the fact that Ukraine is a party that protects its territory and the population of peaceful towns and villages, the russian side is recognized as having full responsibility for damage and loss of cultural heritage.
In view of the:
– significant changes in the historical landscape caused by destruction during military operations;
– causing significant damage to protected archaeological areas due to the movement of heavy equipment and the construction of military logistics;
– movement of the soil during the installation of defense, fortification structures, observation and firing points;
– significant damage as a result of bombings and missile attacks on almost the entire territory of Ukraine;
– increasing of activities of marauding and robbery groups in relation to archaeological heritage objects;
– increased demand for archaeological objects from Ukraine on looting forums and social networks during the war;
– a potential threat to archaeological objects located in the “gray zone” and in the occupied territories;
– the absence of control over the monuments by state executive bodies in the field of cultural heritage protection and the inactivity of relevant structures;
– the urgency of the issue of ensuring the monitoring of the state of preservation of the archaeological heritage and preventing the theft of archaeological objects in wartime conditions
As an additional and necessary requirement to the declared martial law, it is proposed to strengthen control over immovable and movable objects of archaeological heritage.
Due to the ineffectiveness and slowness of making urgent decisions within the framework of the existing state monument protection bodies, we consider it necessary to create an inter-institutional group, which would be endowed with a number of necessary powers to conduct monitoring, prevent destruction and stop criminal activity in relation to movable and immovable objects archaeological heritage:
– monitoring of earthworks during and after the construction of fortifications and military structures, communications in view of the possibility of discovering new archaeological objects;
– monitoring the state of preservation of known archaeological sites in order to determine the degree of damage due to military operations;
– monitoring of illegal activities related to the search for archaeological objects, which are carried out without appropriate permits;
– detection of facts of illegal circulation of archaeological objects and antiquities.
The urgent issue of organizing activities to monitor the state of archaeological objects in the liberated territories requires significant organizational and legal foundations. This activity faces a number of difficulties related to the danger of being near military objects and in areas close to military operations, complicated access to archaeological objects that can be used as military objects, the possibility of discovering new archeological sites as a result of landscape transformations that occurred during military operations. Monitoring of historical landscapes in the newly liberated territories should take place with the presence of paramilitary guards, explosives services, sappers, along with the organization of an appropriate level of security.
Unlike other objects of cultural heritage, monitoring the state of archaeological objects is very complicated. This requires not only the fixation of external damage, but also obtaining information through the study of the facts of the destruction of cultural layers, which involves the direct presence of researchers on the territory of the monument, conducting necessary stages of archaeological research and scientific interpretation of the obtained data. Therefore, it should be stated that only a team of professional archaeologists who have sufficient field research experience and the necessary knowledge for the cultural-chronological attribution of sites would be able to record the damage and establish the degree of preservation of specific archaeological objects.
Due to the above reasons, representatives of a number of scientific, educational, museum institutions and public organizations created a working group (ALMG), the purpose of which would be the identification, recording and research of archaeological objects and territories destroyed as a result of military actions and the formation of a database according to them.
Archaeological Landscapes Monitoring Group (ALMG) –working group for monitoring and mapping landscapes and sites threatened by war in Ukraine.
The working group includes archaeologists and site-preservationists from the following organizations:
– Ukrainian State Institute for Cultural Heritage (https://www.spadshina.org.ua/);
– Institute of Archaeology of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine (https://iananu.org.ua/);
– Faculty of History of Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv (http://www.history.univ.kiev.ua/ );
– Union of Archaeologists of Ukraine (http://www.vgosau.kiev.ua/ )
– Center for Paleoethnological Research (http://vovkcenter.org.ua/en/main/ )
– Center for Medieval Studies.
The result of the activity of this group is the development of an interactive questionnaire, the purpose of which is to record the destruction of archaeological heritage objects directly in the field, to create a database and a map of the damaged archaeological sites and territories. It should be noted that the recording of the destruction of archaeological sites as a result of military aggression should take place not only in the territories where military actions took place, but in the entire territory of Ukraine. It is important to identify not only damage caused by bombing, rocket and mortar attacks, but also damage caused by fortification, road, construction works related to the organization of defense in the rear. This activity should be started practically now, during the process of liberating the territories from the invaders, with the aim of the most complete analysis of the destroyed parts of the landscape, new archaeological finds and the future assessment of the loss and damage caused to the archaeological heritage due to the war.
Archaeological heritage has a special status due to the fragility and non-restorability of information carriers on the one hand, and due to the lack of sufficient predictability of results on the other hand: every archaeological study is an encounter with the unknown, which can significantly affect our understanding of the diversity of human behavior in its anthropological unity.
Attitudes towards archaeological objects, which are often devoid of relevant ethnic or national significance, is a “litmus test” of civilization, which is expressed in tolerance and respect for “other” cultures. Archaeological knowledge is a very effective tool in the struggle for rationality, against xenophobia, clericalism, and ideas of national exclusivity.
The struggle of Ukrainians for independence is also a struggle for humanistic values, among which respect for the cultural and natural heritage of humankind is of particular importance.