Conservation at El Mirador

March 19, 2014

I finally had the opportunity to visit El Mirador, the longest-running Global Heritage Fund project in Guatemala. The preClassic Maya site lies in the Peten region at the northern edge of the country, in the heart of a surviving rain forest. Howler monkeys greeted our arrival by helicopter.
View from La DaS
This is the Kan (snake) kingdom of the Maya, a series of cities and ceremonial sites that represented the most advanced civilization in North America two thousand years ago. Today many of these sites are part of the Mayan Biosphere Preserve. We are conserving BOTH culture and nature here, which is important, because you see the deforestation in the area around the park and it is disheartening.
top La DaS
View from La Danta, the largest pyramid at El Mirador and the largest pyramid BY VOLUME in the world.

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Dr. Richard Hansen, who has been working with GHF for almost a decade, looking up La Danta

As I said in a blog not too long ago, we are seeing a confluence of heritage and natural area conservation. Not only does World Heritage recognize both (and “mixed” sites) but many of our projects are both national parks or preserves and cultural heritage sites, like Ciudad Perdida in Colombia and El Mirador. Saving the heritage helps save the rainforest.

VM on La DantaS
Me on La Danta

At the same time, conservation of excavated temples and artifacts is made more difficult by the rainforest. One of our principal efforts in 2013 was to construct this shelter over the famous Popul Vuh plaster relief mural. This will help conserve this fantastic ancient artwork.
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PV himselfS
This is Hunahpu, one of the hero twins of the Popul Vuh, he is carrying the head of his father after defeating the bad guys in the ball game

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Dr. Richard Hansen explaining the myth

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A similar cover helps conserve the temple of the Jaguar nearby.

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The site is vast, occupying a basin that stretches north of the border into Mexico and represents not only a rich and well-preserved ancient civilization, but a rare and intact stand of native rainforest. My visit was brief but the impact was great.

View down escala La Da grpS
descending the pyramid (but not all the way into the underworld

During the summer field season over 300 workers are employed here in archaeology and conservation. The next step is to develop an ecologically sensitive way of visiting the remote jungle site – if you want to avoid the helicopter now you have to trek for two days (and there are chiggers and other nasties). Hansen’s preferred solution is to use the historic roadways, made of many layers of lime, that link the sites in the basin with the world outside the rainforest. In the meantime, work goes on and the faces carved millennia ago emerge in the jungle…
stone face nr PVs

To support GHF’s work at Mirador, click here!

Yangon Heritage

March 6, 2014

Rangoon. The Garden City of the Orient. It really was, and thanks to a half-century of neglect, it still is. Sort of like Havana, Rangoon gives you that sense of stepping back in time, before the glass skyscraper shopping centers, before Rayon and ubiquitous telephony. I rarely wax nostalgic but when I walked the streets of Rangoon in May of 1986, I fell in love with the colonial architecture.
Colonial_building,_Yangon,_Myanmar
You could feel the sense of time there. I have never been to Havana, but I have experienced the sense of time frozen in architecture in a few other places – Budapest a decade ago, Georgetown (Malaysia, not D.C.) in the 80s, even Leeds back in ’82. It is an architecture that begs for preservation but not restoration. It is messy but it is literally dripping with history; with significance
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I was in Chicago last week meeting with Thant Myint-U, an historian, author and leader in both the preservation movement in Burma as well as its peace process and emergent democracy. Global Heritage Fund is working with Yangon Heritage Trust because like YHT, we see conservation of architectural heritage as a vital social and economic development tool.

Thant is considered one of the 100 Leading Global Thinkers by Foreign Policy Magazine and I think it is significant that he thinks so much about preservation.

shwedagon
This is my photo of the great Shwedagon Pagoda, 1986.

For a couple of years now, there has been a rush to Rangoon, which sits neatly between the great South Asian cultural sphere of India and the great East Asian cultural sphere that includes China and Japan. The rush is prompted by openness, trade, and of course that time-capsule city that is just dying for redevelopment in the time-honored manner of all Asian cities….
shinjuku
shang mus INup
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Yum. Can’t wait.

So Thant sees a rare opportunity to preserve the best of the old – and the garden city feel crafted by the original designers and NOT LOST due to the depredations of mid-century highway engineers – while allowing Rangoon to evolve into the 21st century. Almost every other such opportunity in Asia has been lost.
Bund E
Except the Bund, although it is dwarfed by the rest of Shanghai and outsmarted nightly by Pudong across the river.

Shortly after visiting Rangoon in 1986 I went to Singapore, and while it is cleaner and safer than anywhere in the U.S., my impression was: The alien shopping centers have landed and they are having a sale. Not warm and fuzzy. Not special character.

Rangoon is the last best hope for crafting a modern Asian city that respects not only a few odd landmarks, but an urban landscape, a balance of then and now, a place made humane by the urban patina of these buildings.
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There are challenges – sorting out the ownership and tenancy rights, and these are primary in Thant’s mission, which seeks to secure a conservation NOT reliant on gentrification. That is a tall order, but in every important sense, he is up to that challenge and I will work to make Global Heritage Fund a partner in that effort.

Another challenge lies in the naysayers. I heard it more than once – why would the Burmese want to preserve the colonial architecture built by the British who literally conquered the country?
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This is a common slam against preservation, and it ranks up there with the other fallacies used as excuses by those who find preservation HARD.

Fallacy Problem One: This assumes that the oppressed peoples IDENTIFY that architecture with oppression. They might. They might not. First thing you should do is ask them. Thant has and is acting on the answer.

Fallacy Problem Two: The architecture of oppression can become the people’s architecture in no time at all. Here is a palace of a despotic ruler:
louvre cr cr
Except they chopped his head off and opened the building to the public as the WORLD’S FIRST MUSEUM causing, well, museums.

Here is a palace of 600 years of despotic rulers:
forbid city e ctyd2s
So when radical Communists took over the country they demolished it, right? Um, no, they made it into a public museum and tourist attraction.

Here is what every NEW building in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos looks like:
mcmansion khmer
It’s French. You want to show off your newly minted middle-class status, you build a house in the style of the colonial powers. Short answer: Don’t assume what the architecture symbolizes to people until THEY TELL YOU.


Fallacy Problem Three:
The embedded notion here is that people just want to get ahead and you and your fancy-pants aesthetic snobbery are preventing them from their unencumbered march into prosperity.

This is a fallacy in the developed world as well, proceeding as it does from the assumption that ANYTHING that gets in the way of redevelopment is an impediment. Like buildings. Like zoning. Like laws. Like financing. Like infrastructure.

We don’t consider zoning or financing impediments but maybe we should, because they can shut down a development project COMPLETELY. An old building CAN’T DO THAT. The worst it can do is change the FORM of the development project.

Why is that so HARD? Maybe Yangon Heritage Trust will prove that is isn’t.
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Santa Cruz Victorians

February 23, 2014

Santa Cruz is a lovely place, famous for its boardwalk, its gritty street life (it is the Bay Area bookend to San Francisco after all), its surfing (Steamer Lane and the Surfing Museum) and of course UCSC whose mascot is the banana slug.
SC view to bcwalkS
That’s the boardwalk
surfing museumS
Surfing museum
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makeshift memorials at Steamer Lane

The history of Santa Cruz begins of course with a mission, and indeed Santa Cruz has the oldest surviving building from a mission, although it is NOT the mission church.
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But what always strikes me in Santa Cruz are the Victorian homes. The place is lousy with them and there are several landmark districts.
Victorian SCs

Santa Cruz victorian13s

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This Second Empire just down from the mission is one of the classics, but the modest ones create a wonderful streetscape….

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Of course, many have new uses, like Dr. Miller’s, which would be the epitome of hipsterdom if the world were ironic enough to allow such to exist:

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And this awesome 1880 Italianate that sells vaping supplies (It’s Santa Cruz!)

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I guess flowers too. Anything green. Or green-like.

And of course B & Bs…

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The beachfront, which is obviously primo property, also features many Victorians, although I sometimes have to look twice to see what is actually 120 years old and what is a modern addition or detail. Can you spot these below?

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This one is a little easier because you can see the concrete foundation – the whole left half is modern. That precious turret is a bit harder to figure, though.

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Ah, and the classic garage underneath – this is actually a Bay Area-wide phenomenon, seen in the Italianates of San Francisco, the Shingles of Berkeley, and every post-1900 rowhouse you can find

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I will finish with this little church, one of several from the era. Why do they always have two doors? I mean, if it were a Quaker meeting house from the 18th century in Southern New Jersey I could see it, but….

In Search of Luxury

February 18, 2014

For thirty years I gave tours of the Illinois and Michigan Canal National Heritage Corridor outside Chicago and talked about the earliest European history of the area, which was the French trade, the couriers de bois who paddled through the wilds of the upper Midwest from Montreal in search of one thing: beaver pelts. Why? To make fancy top hats for the European upper class.
10 voyageur
Dude is starting a fire with flint and steel on a real island in Illinois

Now I give tours of Monterey, where the earliest European history is of course the Spanish, who were sailing to California from the Phillipines and China in search of one thing: sea otter pelts. Why? To make capes and caps for the Chinese upper class.
qiu ying 16C
wicked sea otter snapback dude!

If you look at key trade items that led to the creation of new places, they tend to be luxury goods. It ain’t the Polyester Road that goes through Samarkand, it’s Silk. Heck, some places are even named after these goods: Java, Spice Islands, Cote d’Ivoire. Penang in Malaysia evinces the layers of trade from Portuguese and Chinese to English. The Spanish and Portuguese spent two hundred years looking for gold in the Americas.
BOG Oro97
And they found it. Even if they had to pry it out of your cold, dead nose

Even the second and third waves of settlement are often focused on luxury goods. When you visit the Custom House in Monterey, the oldest public building in California, you learn about the cowhide trade during the Mexican era in the 1820s, where boats were laden with hides and then shipped much farther than China: to Boston and New York, where the markup was about 10 times the price in California.
Mont Cust House hidesS
hidebound and hell bent for leather

Mont Cust HouseS
Here’s the Custom House.

And of course once the Americans manage to take over California from the Mexicans – in fact about exactly three weeks later, the Americans get all hot and bothered for gold as well, and basically San Francisco and all of Northern California get created in like a year.
nice italS
which is why there are still like a thousand of these despite the earthquakes

Interestingly, the 19th century witnesses the rise of industrial economies and trade becomes more a quantity thing. The European top hats stop being beaver and start being, of all things, silk. The hides being shipped from Monterey are used not so much for boots and jackets as for belts to power factories. Malaysia becomes more interesting for rubber and palm oil, Illinois runs out of beaver and starts growing corn by the crore, and dear old Monterey starts whaling on whales to produce the oil that lights and heats everybody’s house.
Mont whale sidewalkSThis sidewalk is made of whale vertebrae. Honestly

Now, between the Gold Rush and the discovery (which oddly eluded the Spanish for a century) that San Francisco was a WAY better harbor than Monterey, little old Monterey became a backwater. No more hides, no more whales. So, they turn to tourism, which is, in itself, a luxury good. They do it way back in the 1880s, when only the wealthy get more than one day a week off.
casa del oroS
They called this one Casa de Oro

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And this was a hotel and…

Pretty soon with the tourists come the artists. Robert Louis Stevenson. Eventually Jack London, Upton Sinclair, Robinson Jeffers, Mary Austen, and a local guy named John Steinbeck who turned tales of the Inland Empire into a Nobel Prize. He published Grapes
of Wrath
just two years after Monterey created their historic district of downtown adobes in 1937 – basically the same time as New Orleans’ created the Vieux Carré.

Cannery Row21s

And then he writes another book called Cannery Row, about another industrial operation, which then collapses and gets turned into yet another tourist attraction, although this time on an industrial rather than exclusive scale.

My tour continues through Cannery Row, past the 1984 Monterey Bay Aquarium which cemented its tourist position to 17 Mile Drive, the fun way to get to Carmel, the town the artists flocked to 100 years ago. There is plenty of luxury at Pebble Beach and the houses of 17 Mile Drive.
17M PebBeach crs bS

Carmel itself has a history dating to 1771 when Fra Junipero Serra established his second mission on El Camino Real (he actually established it a year earlier in Monterey) and there you can see the heavily reconstructed Mission, mostly dating from the 1930s.
Carmel mission w plaqS

I suppose today PLACE is the luxury item, and with most houses starting at a million despite their über-cute diminutive scale, Carmel is a luxury good and its trade is booming.
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The houses have no numbers, only names. You have to get your mail at the post office.

What Hath God Wrought

February 1, 2014

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This is last March before the drought

Living in Silicon Valley is fascinating in a variety of ways, from the absurdly non-existent weather (we think “Polar Vortex” is something treated with antidepressants) to the car culture, massive amounts of wealth, and the odd internationalism of the computer industries which draw people from every nation on earth. There is also the famously laid-back West Coast ethic and a blissful isolation from the vapidity and noise of national politics. California is the world’s eighth largest economy, and like the second, it has a functional single-party system. Also like the second, it is the most capitalist place on earth – it’s not how much money you make: it’s how much money your money makes…
west appl sign san joseS
Even the appliances are laid back. My washer and dryer stay outside

I like to joke that in Palo Alto there are two types of businesses: start-ups and wealth management. There is also Stanford University, although I suppose it also falls under the category of wealth management as the most successful fundraising entity on the planet. But there is something to the ethic of innovation that characterizes Silicon Valley, that drew Zuckerberg from Harvard, that formed Steve Jobs, that made garages the seedlings of the world’s biggest corporations for several generations.
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add a sense of Mission

The famous Jobs quote where he talks about understanding that the world is made by other people and can just as easily be re-made by you – is true every day around here. If you go back in this blog, you can see my struggles with technology. I didn’t understand the iPad when it came out, but I understood that within a week every fifth person in China had one and now I can’t eat a meal, contract a service or even talk to another human without an iPad.
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You only think cars need wheels because other people say they do

Innovation and that old “thinking outside of the box” really are everyday here. In fact, they are tradition. A tradition of not thinking traditionally.
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Plenty of traditional architecture, though. Which, as every preservationist knows, is where new ideas come from

Yet despite the promise of the wireless world and the depth of our relationships with our smart phones in 2014, this is still a place, and the tradition of this place goes back before the garage of Jobs to the garage of Hewlett Packard, which was actually preserved as a relic of 1939 and birthplace of Silicon Valley. Why a place when we live in a wireless network – why not another place?
reserrvoir ride 13s
well, this helps

But that is the logic of capitalism, which overrides the apparent logic of technology any day. You know the idea that professional people can live anywhere they want thanks to the communication network that connects us all – how old is that idea? 2000? 1996? Try 1844. Samuel Morse’s telegraph. What Hath God Wrought? They all predicted there would be no cities now that you could communicate over wires. Which is why there have hardly been any cities built anywhere since 1844.
chgo vw from homan sq twrS
not

You see there is a logic to concentration that overrides the ability to be distant. This is why H-P and Intel and Apple and Google and Twitter are all here. The logic of capitalism states that if there is a successful business, the best place to build a similar successful business is right next door – you have the talent and treasure to make it happen. We thrive in this sea of collaboration, in this physical network that has transformed the world into a virtual network.
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Because the most high-tech way of moving things is to run a wire underground and keep it constantly moving. Grab on for a ride, let go to stop.

The Grammy Theme: Obsolescence or Transcendence?

January 28, 2014

A little shy of a year ago I wrote a blog about (among other things) the Macklemore and Ryan Lewis song “Thrift Shop” because 1. I like it, and 2. I was amazed that such an anti-consumerist sentiment could be a hit song.
dangerousS
Not stealing pictures of Grammys so go find your own

Now the Grammys have not only showered the song and its artists with awards, but they gave out other awards to songs that question or outright TRASH the materialistic morality of the industry, like the Song of the year “Royals” which was the absolute inverse of the Lil’ Kim product placement songs that ruled the roost a decade ago. Little Lorde (younger than my daughter) parodied product placement and created a youth anthem in opposition to consumerism.
McDonald's and Mobil @ nite
those prices are as obsolete as a Maybach now…

Throw in the post-apocalyptic Radioactive by Imagine Dragons and Jay Z’s OMG-Fame-is-too-much-what-do-I-do duo with Timberlake (Holy Grail) and you have an anti-consumerist theme that, like I said in my 2013 blog – had been sort of invisible for twenty years. Not coincidentally, Jay-Z name-checks and quotes Kurt Cobain and Smells Like Teen Spirit, so maybe we are being welcomed to a new age, or back to one that questioned the high life.
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yeah, well

What was the other runaway winner? Daft Punk’s Get Lucky, which lyrically is only a portion of an emotion but sonically is ALL of the 1970s. The striving of the song’s protagonist has a human (sexual) objective and no consumerist reference whatsoever, notwithstanding “Robots.”
do not hammerS
so, like, they aren’t following the rules I think…

One might be tempted to see this as a commentary on the collapse of the recording industry, which has failed to come up with a viable economic model for nurturing musical talent in the digital age. But maybe it is a return to the DIY era of the late 70s and early 80s – that is sort of how Lorde got into the business. And it’s not like there was an era of the music business that was pure and fair and free of payola….
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but there were eras that were colorful
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and obsolescence rarely lasts forever anyway…vm point 83
On second thought, let’s just leave the 1970s alone….

Recycling Recycling: Symbols of empathy

January 18, 2014

My town is about to join a long list of local communities and counties that are banning plastic bags from stores. LA just became the largest city to do so. Because environment. Like most such actions, the benefits of the ban are primarily symbolic and inspirational, which is how we have approached recycling in the United States for well over seventy years.
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Humans need symbols, and the most effective ones are visual. When I was in high school baby harp seals, over-the-top cute and cruelly clubbed, became extremely effective symbols for wildlife preservation. Of course, if the animals were less than cute (snail darter) they might become symbols for the opposition.
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like this threatened newt in Yunnan I shot (photographed) in 2008

But back to recycling. Famously, in World War II Americans recycled metal, rubber, newspapers and more to help the war effort. The idea was that we recycled these things into jeeps and tanks and bullets and telegrams or whatever to aid our soldiers overseas. Economists debate the actual economic and logistical impact of these drives, but no one doubts their symbolic ability to motivate patriotic support of the war effort.
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The next burst of recycling started with the oil scare of 1973 and I remember recycling newspapers from at least 1975, which in that case required careful straightening, bundling and delivering to a recycling station 2 miles away. Our hate affair with plastic bags begins at this point as well, since about that time the great question of eternal duality began”: “Paper or plastic?”
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Please put my plastic bottles in a PAPER bag

I actually never understand that duality: Why does it have to be either/or? Why can’t I have some of both? I would be happiest if I came home from the grocery store with BOTH plastic and paper bags – I can use the one for the little garbage cans and the other for the recycling, right? But the checkout clerks force you into one camp or the other. Paper AND plastic??? what are you, sick??

Which takes us right over the barbed wire into the no-man’s land of NO PLASTIC BAGS. And I understand this too, based on an experience I had 20 years ago in the Illinois River Valley.

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near here

I was tasked with fighting against a huge landfill in LaSalle County. In the process I visited local landfills and while I remember the earth movers and dump trucks the enduring image of the landfill was PLASTIC BAGS. They would catch in trees next to the landfill and for a mile or more around it. They looked awful blowing in the wind and they hearkened right back to that 1971 environmental commercial where the Italian-American actor dressed as a Native American shed a tear seeing what us consumers had done to the rivers and trees.

The plastic bag is the enduring image of the pollution of the landfill, and the landfill in turn is what we are trying to avoid by recycling. Even though the landfill is mostly yard waste, paper and construction debris, not plastic bags, and the biggest lesson I learned in that (losing) battle was about “special waste.” Do you know what “special waste” is? It can be put in lots of landfills because it is NOT toxic waste. It is diluted toxic waste. Cool, huh?

lawndale forge recyclingS

There are many reasons to ban plastic bags – they end up not only in trees but in the ocean, where they kill the hell out of marine critters, so that is a good reason to ban them. But if you are thinking about landfills, your reusable bags could be taking up more space. The value of the ban is less the direct benefit to the environment than the symbolism of the action.

hs with recyc
I feel better already

The deeper problem is of course how can you possibly use consumption to fight consumption? That is the pernicious logic that renders the paper versus plastic divide nonsensical: which consumer choice will you use to fight against living in a consumer society? Because you can’t win it unless you change it structurally, not symbolically. That means cutting out not just the plastic but the purchases themselves. Interestingly, that actually happened in World War II – I have my grandfather’s ration book to prove it.

Real Life Monuments Men and Women

January 3, 2014

So, the movie with all of your favorite male actors (George Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman, etc.) is finally coming out, kicked into 2014 and out of Oscar contention. It is the story of a World War II platoon dedicated to saving priceless cultural treasures from the Nazi scourge. I can’t wait to see it.
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monument man

But then again, I see it everyday, because saving heritage is the job of the Global Heritage Fund, and we have men and women doing that throughout the developing world (although not in the midst of war, generally). Women as frequently as men, the various architects, archaeologists and anthropologists of Global Heritage Fund may not be risking life and limb, but there is a palpable sense of adventure and exoticism to what they do. Just check out my posts on Ciudad Perdida, Colombia, Banteay Chhmar, Cambodia and Guizhou, China.

At GHF we may not be on the front lines of a war, but we are on the leading edge of heritage conservation in several ways. First, we often seek out sites that are newly accessible: Ciudad Perdida emerged from the paramilitary jungle within the last decade, which is when the landmines were cleared from sites like Banteay Chhmar. Roads have just reached the once-remote minority villages of Guizhou province, China and access to the Mayan sites of the Peten in Guatemala, such as El Mirador, is still by helicopter or lengthy jungle trek.

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The landmines didn’t stop the looters from taking this section of the Avalokiteshvara wall at Banteay Chhmar.

We are also on the cutting edge of the field. If you have read any of the international reports on heritage conservation coming out of UNESCO and ICOMOS in recent years, clear themes are emerging, themes that are infused through GHF’s mission and projects. Culture as a pillar of community development. Cultural landscapes as the most sustainable way to preserve heritage. Tangible and intangible heritage partnerships that save both culture and nature.

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there has never been a hard line between nature and culture

In Guizhou we are partnering with a Chinese NGO that works to save local crafts through marketing, business planning, and a host of economic approaches that leave the quaint “tsotchkes for the tourists” paradigm in the dust. In Romania we are saving villages by investing in the tile kilns needed to restore the traditional Carpathian villages in an authentic way.

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My last blog touted the capable Dr. Santiago Giraldo in South America, and I could easily include Kuanghan Li, who was directed our China projects for six years. Long ago we partnered with archaeologists like Dr. John Rick at Chavin de Huantar in Peru and Dr. Richard Hansen, who pioneered our work in the Mayan biosphere of Guatemala. More recently we have provided the missing conservation and planning piece to such fascinating projects as Göbekli Tepe in Turkey, discovered and excavated by Dr. Klaus Schmidt of the German Archaeological Institute. Each of these is a “Monuments” person dedicated to saving priceless world heritage, from poverty, war, climate, neglect and looting.

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world’s oldest ceremonial site, 5,000 years older than Stonehenge, nearly 12,000 years old. Built by hunters and gatherers. And then deliberately buried by them.

I can’t match Hollywood when it comes to CGI, starpower or even storytelling. But I can take you to see some of the world’s least known, most exciting heritage sites and the women and men who are working to save them. Call me.

Lang de village field

Giving and Getting: the Nature of Charity

December 30, 2013

The world is too much with us, late and soon
Getting and spending we lay waste our powers
Little we see in Nature that is ours

This poem fragment from Wordsworth, learnt in the first year of high school, remains stuck firmly in my head these many decades later. To me it was a critique of consumerism, although I suppose in its time it was a critique of industrialism. In either case it was a critique born of nostalgia, a disease that makes letting go difficult, a disease of heart and mind that fears change and newness and the gross manipulations that are our human economy.

If you have ever seen my website or taken one of my classes, you know I dislike nostalgia, even though it would seem to be the base impulse behind all I have ever done professionally: the urge to preserve is a nostalgic urge, no?

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No. The reason I am in California running the Global Heritage Fund is the same reason I toiled behind the scenes during the creation of the Illinois and Michigan Canal National Heritage Corridor 30 years ago. Because both approached preservation as an economically viable choice about the future, not a desperate nostalgic attempt to hold on to the past.

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Right now you and I and everyone else are being hit with end-of-year giving requests from a variety of worthy causes and charities. I have spent the entirety of my 30-plus year career working for non-profit organizations, and now is no exception and this blog is in fact an end-of-year giving request. Right here. But it is also an examination of the nature of charity.

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Charity is giving in a way that supports getting. It is the classic “teach a man to fish” paradigm. Our way of doing it involves heritage, which is something indigenous and permanent to place.

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That is Dr. Santiago Giraldo, who has come twice to California in the last year to present our project at Ciudad Perdida in Colombia. It is a model project for many reasons: it incorporates all four of our Preservation By Design® aspects: Conservation Science, Partnerships, Planning, and Community Development. It creates local jobs in tourism and provides infrastructural improvements like bridges and stoves and sanitation and health centers that serve tourists, peasants and indigenous alike. Most importantly, it saves heritage because Conservation is the most sustainable human economy.

Trail up i10 village

I wrote recently about how many environmental organizations were abandoning the Puritanism of the wilderness model, recognizing that the most effective way to conserve some natural areas was through a sustainable USE of the land by a native population. That is what is happening at Ciudad Perdida in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountains of Colombia.

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It is our goal at all of our sites in the developing world. Indeed, the special sauce that makes Global Heritage Fund unique is that we ONLY work in developing regions. We do that because we know that money spent on heritage is wasted unless the local community want to save it. They will do that if it benefits them – economically as well as spiritually. We also work in these places because we recognize conservation as the most sustainable way to develop and improve economies for the future. That’s it.

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Our mission is to save heritage in the developing world, and do it in a way that improves lives, because that is best for the heritage, for the local people, and for the local economy. It gives the lie to Wordsworth, because we can see what is ours in nature and we can get and spend in a way that builds our powers rather than wastes them.

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Megafauna, Megaliths and Megamalls

November 29, 2013

My first coherent memory of the term Black Friday was in 2008, when we had two Chinese students staying at our house for Thanksgiving and they went out all night to “celebrate” this American consumer tradition. History tells me that the term dates to the 1960s, and of course I was well aware of people starting their Christmas shopping the day after Thanksgiving throughout my life. I was a rare participant, having suffered lifelong from male-pattern-shopping-disorder.
in Costco2
Despite advanced degrees and extensive world travel, I am unable to appreciate the beauty of this image. What’s wrong with me?

Now, the casualties from this year’s simultaneous shopping frenzy are already mounting as I write this, so as a historian I immediately think of parallels in earlier civilizations, such as the human sacrifice found in many MesoAmerican cultures. You can argue there is a difference between religious beliefs and consumerism, but you can also argue exactly the opposite, and indeed in history the distinction between belief and ritual is entirely academic.
Klaus-Peter Simon_2012
Here is an image of the world’s oldest “ceremonial” site, Göbekli Tepe in Turkey, 5,000 years older than Stonehenge. (at Global Heritage Fund we are trying to conserve it through community development projects) Some have called it the world’s oldest “religious” site but we have no idea if and what religion possessed these hunter-and-gatherer societies of the Fertile Crescent at that date. We can only know about the site’s ritual use, and even much of that is still theoretical.
steinkreis av sitk
Even if we know what she is doing, we don’t know what she is thinking

The world is full of early megalithic structures, places like the Celtic stone circle in Austria seen above, or Göbekli Tepe, or Stonehenge, or the famous Easter Island statues, or the Spinx for that matter. Pyramids themselves, found in the Fertile Crescent, Egypt (duh), and of course throughout the Americas, are a kind of megalith, even if the earliest ones are rammed earth, or in this case, adobe brick.
huaca huallamarcaS
Lima is full of huacas (pyramids) like Rome is full of Baroque churches

So, we have the ancient ritual sites and their megaliths, and we have our modern ritual sites, which are megamalls, and progress is certainly measurable because we sacrifice a miniscule fraction of the number of people they used to sacrifice at these various ritual sites. So where do the megafauna fit in?
cahok interp28 life diorS

Traditionally we ascribe the rise of religion to the abandonment of the huntering and gathering lifestyle for settled agricultural societies. If you are always on the move, you can’t build a temple, right? Göbekli Tepe conflates that, since it was built by pre-agricultural society, although there are intriguing connections to the early domestication of plants and animals. Every historical shift has a push and a pull, and the ready availability of plants and animals in the Fertile Crescent and Eurasia in general was a pull, but the demise of megafauna was likely a push.
GT megalith
Is that a dodo?

One of the quaint truths about human societies is that they almost never, ever live in any sort of harmony with nature. We love the myth of people living in harmony with nature, and that myth meant Avatar made a boatload of money, which is too say that myth FED our expansive economic ecosystem that depends on consumption of more resources than our environment can sustain. That is ironic in the original sense of the word, BTW. It is relatively easy to see in the fossil record how prehistoric humans on every continent wiped out the megafauna: giant kangaroos, mastodons and woolly mammoths, huge felines, etc. We might wonder at how they could have managed these huge kills, but the “big game hunter” still exists – the human impulse is to go big. And when a tribe managed a big kill, they got a big payoff in terms of calories and clothes and tools. So we killed off all those big beasts. Probably a very male thing.
AON DINOSS
Unlike architecture. Hard to see the male imagery in that…

While the men were going big in the hunt, the women were gathering fruits and nuts and berries and eventually emmer wheat and barley and THEY probably figured out the idea of agriculture, which was much less dramatic than the big hunt but more productive in the long terms of calories and clothes and sustained societies better. Besides the Ice Age was over and nutrients in the soil were OFF THE HOOK.
OI egyp breadS
3000 year old bread. Stale, but nutritious.

SO, if you go to the Fertile Crescent today you see lands of milk and honey where everything grows in blue peace with the environment, yes? Well, no. It’s more like lots of desert, because of the lovely human tendency (all genders pull together on this one!) to exploit our resources until we totally run out.

I remember touring the archaeological monuments of the Burren in County Clare, Ireland, where our guide pointed out from one summit the remains of eight significant prehistoric monuments, wedge tombs and dolmens and the like, and noted that there was only one contemporary house in the same viewshed, because the land was much MORE populated five thousand years ago.
gleninsheen crop02
You know, before it got gentrified

Now comes the time in the story when I make an analogy to heritage conservation. So here goes. In preserving and conserving historic sites, we tended to start with the megafauna: the huge monuments like Pyramids and Great Walls and Palaces and whacking great ginormous temples….
duomo82
cahok world hertS
coba pyramid
roy palace

Then we got a little more sophisticated, which is to say feminine, and started cultivating our cultural landscapes, but since we did it in a curatorial (male) fashion, we tended to demolish as much as we conserved, so we got historic landscapes that were more like petting zoos than living landscapes…
skansen
Skansen, the granddaddy of them all

But then we started listening to the likes of Jane Jacobs and tried to imagine actual sustainable environments that retained their roots: both in architectural design and place history, and we imagined we could sustain these historical cultural landscapes in a living, evolving way…
bank st vw
Calif St Ital TudorS
44th berkeley

And that’s as far as we have gotten. Happy Black Friday!

PS: I treated the monuments to landscapes argument a year ago here.


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