Prepare to learn and appreciate cultural heritage in former armed conflict areas

An expert in underwater archaeology visiting the Externado emphasized the importance of promoting scientific research in areas previously dominated by the war.

Former war territories will uncover not only their tourism potential but also a scientific one, as they are true ‘mines’ for archaeological research.


Nariño, Huila, Meta, Vichada, Putumayo, and Caquetá, are some of the regions where archaeological exploration and ecotourism are looking to attract resources and visitors from countries such as the United States, Mexico, Brazil, Peru, Ecuador, Chile, Argentina, Spain, and Germany.

However, to meet that goal, José-Oscar Encuentra Bardina, Master in Maritime Archaeology from the University of Southampton (UK), believes there will be numerous challenges, not only social and institutional but also academic.

“When there is a territory which, due to certain political conditions has been free of archaeological interventions, it poses major challenges for universities, to educate and train human capital allowing scientific teams to conduct their studies,” he said.

The Spanish scholar visited the country within the framework of a conference on high-altitude underwater archaeology; particularly in Lake Titicaca, located on the border of Bolivia and Peru.

At an average altitude of 3812 meters above sea level, with an area of 8562 km², Lake Titicaca has been the site of important archaeological findings which may reveal the exchange of Andean cultures with those in other regions of South America.

A high-altitude challenge

In making a historical review of the work carried out in Lake Titicaca, aimed at the preservation of the submerged cultural heritage, the expert explained the challenges of conducting maritime archaeology at high altitudes.

“In dives in high-altitude lakes, the slightest sea level atmospheric pressure changes bottom and surface pressure relationships. Atmospheric pressure is caused by the weight of the air, and its value decreases as the height increases,” he stated.

Additionally, there are cultural challenges, as carrying out scientific projects in territories with deeply-rooted religious practices requires “a tremendous amount of tact” to obtain approval from the community.

“In particular, when we arrived at the territory adjacent to Titicaca, we make offerings to the gods of the Lake, so the community would allow us to extract the objects found,” said the expert, and added that respect for the traditions is essential to conducting research.

The scientist noted that currently, in this area, protection of heritage and cultural tourism training projects are being conducted in communities impacted by the research.

“Also, research groups promote the development of centers for interpretation of the Lake’s cultural, terrestrial and underwater wealth, as it is often the case when objects are extracted from the Lake, the first thought is to sell and not display them in museums,” he added.

Lastly, he reiterated the call to students attending the meeting, to become more involved in this field, especially now, in the current context of the country.

“In nations such as Colombia, with an ancient history of different civilizations and peoples, there is an enormous wealth of study. The fact the Externado University is the only one in the country with this field of study should be a motivation to demand such programs,” he concluded.