Early Burmese Urbanization: Research and Conservation

By Miksic, John N. | Asian Perspectives: the Journal of Archaeology for Asia and the Pacific, Spring 2001 | Go to article overview
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Early Burmese Urbanization: Research and Conservation


Miksic, John N., Asian Perspectives: the Journal of Archaeology for Asia and the Pacific


CULTURAL RESOURCE MANAGEMENT AND ARCHAEOLOGICAL RESEARCH

ARCHAEOLOGICAL RESOURCES ARE A POTENT source of tourism income. Tourism is the world's largest industry, and its share of the new service-driven world economy is constantly growing. The most popular tourist attractions in the world are heritage assets such as the Parthenon, the Pyramids, the Great Wall of China, Angkor Wat, and Borobudur. Cultural tourism has been the subject of several international conferences held in Southeast Asia in the past few years (Wiendu 1993, 1997, 1999). The consensus of experts from both the tourism industry and heritage conservation is that cultural and heritage tourism, if properly managed, can provide a sustainable source of income, and that proper management can ensure that all parties benefit: cultural and archaeological assets can be preserved, protected, and interpreted with the funds obtained from visitors, and tourists can obtain authentic and educational experiences.

Myanmar is well placed to benefit from this phenomenon. Myanmar's archaeological and architectural treasures have the potential to compete successfully with the other heritage sites just mentioned. But possession of these assets is not enough to ensure success; a proper management plan must be developed and rigorously adhered to. Otherwise heritage assets can rapidly become degraded, and potential income may not materialize. A search for quick profits through poorly planned development is almost certainly doomed to failure. (For examples of the outcome of some poorly planned heritage tourism projects in Southeast Asia, see Miksic 1995a, 1995b. For examples of heritage tourism projects which might be implemented in Myanmar, see Miksic 1999a. Lertrit 2000 has described problems experienced in managing archaeological resources in Thailand and proposes some solutions.)

Several universities and other institutions in Southeast Asia have begun to attempt to address these problems. Tourism studies institutes at Gadjah Mada University in Yogyakarta (central Java) and Universitas Udayana in Denpasar (Bali) are currently directed by men whose main backgrounds lie in archaeological research and teaching (Slamat Pinardi and I Wayan Ardika). The Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Organization's Regional Centre for Archaeology and Fine Arts (SPAFA), located in Bangkok, Thailand, the director of which, Mr. Pisit Charoenwongsa, is also an archaeologist, has sponsored numerous conferences and workshops on subjects related to cultural resource management, including sites and monuments of archaeological importance. In 1995, SPAFA sponsored a conference at the National University of Singapore (SPAFA Workshop on Cultural Resource Management, SW-212) which devoted several days to the discussion of a draft set of recommendations entitled "Unified Cultural Resource Management Guidelines for Southeast Asia. Volume I: Material Culture." That draft in turn referred to the problems identified in the Thailand National Cultural Resource Seminar, held in 1994, which boiled down to the "willingness of the public to profit financially at the expense of cultural resources (businessmen who develop in culturally sensitive areas, farmers who hunt for and excavate antiquities, dealers who traffic in antiquities, and so forth)" (Comer 1994:6).

The draft report included some stringent conditions for the development of archaeological sites for tourism. For instance, the report states:

   Original fabric in its original context holds the most and highest quality
   of information .... More spectacular embellishments to
   interpretation--sound and light shows, luxurious visitor centers, and so
   forth--should be considered only insofar as they can be demonstrated to
   contribute to this interpretive process. (Comer 1994:11)

From an intellectual point of view, this statement is unexceptionable. In order to encourage private developers to adhere to this set of priorities, however, it is necessary to acquire hard data to prove that such preservation is more economically beneficial than more invasive alternatives.

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