Extreme short-term environmental shocks leaving disaster in their wake are a fact of life for millions across the globe. Heritage sites and monuments are often caught up in the destruction but even for sites of international value there is little planning on how to best to handle the immediate aftermath of disaster or how a post-disaster future should be developed. Absence of post-disaster planning can contribute as much damage as the environmental event itself with new and robust protocols needed for effective heritage management when disaster strikes.
Nepal’s 7.8 magnitude earthquake of April 2015 caused a human catastrophe with loss of life, livelihoods and destruction within Kathmandu's unique UNESCO World Heritage Sites (WHS). These buildings were not just ornate structures but living monuments, a portal to the gods, and central to thousands of daily lives. Emergency responses to the disaster met immediate humanitarian needs but heritage rehabilitation was unilateral, limited with marginalisation of traditional stakeholders and with irreversible damage to monuments through the adoption of ‘Build Back Better’ post-disaster protocols.
Our current science-based geoarchaeology programme based on the post-disaster World Heritage Kasthamandap monument is now suggesting new and conservation sensitive post-disaster heritage protocols are possible, giving new narratives of site formation and guiding future restorations. Our contributions complement and enhance archaeological investigations and include new understanding of site chronologies, achieved through the integrated application of optically stimulated luminescence and radiocarbon; new understanding of pre-monument rural and urban environments by 'reading' sediments with micromorphology, scanning electron microscopy and xrf analyses; and through analyses of sediment physical properties identifying earthquake proofing of monument foundations during earlier construction phases. In short, our work is enhancing the Outstanding Universal Value, integrity and authenticity of this site, sought in UNESCO WHS designations.
Implementation of these protocols and the analyses they enable is critically dependent on engagement with local communities and stakeholders. We have developed protocols with first responder groups to ensure appropriate salvage and scientific archiving. Furthermore, we are developing local and regional post-disaster research capacity by sharing experiences, emerging best practices and protocols through interactive and site-based workshops for research-based and local community stakeholders. Our Kathmandu Valley experiences also have resonance in other parts of the South Asian region with interest from Myanmar, Sri Lankan and Indian colleagues who have faced (and will continue to face) similar extreme environmental shocks. We are also producing for capacity building purposes a geoarchaeology based 'Manual’ of heritage post-disaster protocols as a tangible output from the workshop. This will be both hard copy and web-based, and while using the Kathmandu Valley experience as our case studies, the near universal applicability of these protocols in a range of extreme shock scenarios will ensure wide reach.