High road to salvage archaeology

1.Salvage archaeology

2.Amazing Indian mounds

3.Effigy mound culture

4.Three Gorgeous Gorges


Part of the Three Gorges in China.
Courtesy International Rivers Network
1. Powell's african journey3. Dusty skies don't rain2. Cancer compound4. Tales of the linguist5. One grand myth



Dam shame
We can't come up with enough superlatives for the Three Gorges dam on China's Yangtze River. It's creating the largest artificial lake in the world. The water level is supposed to rise 175 meters, creating a lake that's 675 kilometers long (see "Dams and..." in the bibliography).

A misty view of a gorge looks like a Chinese painting. And when it's finished in 2009, the dam will submerge 1,271 archaeological sites. Ever since the giant dam was proposed by Mao, it has been controversial. In return for supplying a vast increase in hydroelectric power and preventing disastrous floods downriver, it will evict 2 million people and flood 30,000 hectares of farmland.

The archaeological sites to be inundated may include evidence of early human occupation; archaeologists now think people were in the Three Gorges area 100,000 years ago.

Too little, too late
China is mounting a large salvage archaeology effort, but Elizabeth Childs-Johnson of New York University points to shortages of trained talent and money. The dam's price has reached $15-billion, she notes, and the "international standard for providing for archaeological preservation" means dictates a budget of at least $500 million. In fact, she notes, only $37.5 million was allotted -- and that includes money to move people away from the rising lake.

A blue river snakes against a red background showing river valleys and highlands.
A 65-kilometer stretch of the Yangtze River in China, seen from space. On the right is the site of the Three Gorges Dam. The reservoir will submerge two of three world-famous gorges, and irreplaceable cultural and archaeological sites. Courtesy NASA

The population relocation effort is facing "serious fraud," Childs-Johnson charges. Last year, the London Independent reported that official pledges on resettlement are "being broken one by one. Farmers will not get as much land as originally promised and compensation money has been embezzled by corrupt officials." (See "China: Valley..." in the bibliography.)

Summing up the project, Childs-Johnson wrote that " the problems facing archaeology in the Three Gorges area are manifold and profound... Archaeology and preservation are seriously hampered, due to the priority of technology and national pride at the expense of cultural heritage."

Sift through our salvage archaeology bibliography.




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