|Other name||Avondster project|
|Project duration||01-01-01 till 01-08-07|
|Type of Project||Training and Education|
|VOC, Archaeology, Maritime Heritage, Sri Lanka|
Since the early 1990s a Sri Lanka-international team of maritime archaeologists, historians and museum curators have been doing research in the Bay of Galle and in the extensive archives in Sri Lanka and the Netherlands. Underwater surveys have revealed an impressive number of heritage sites, dated from the 13th century up to modern times. From 2000 these activities became more institutionalized with the forming of a Maritime Archaeological Unit (MAU) Sri Lanka. The main objective was to extend capacity in Sri Lanka for maritime heritage management. These goals were met by training through an excavation project of the Anglo-Dutch East-Indiaman Avondster in the Bay of Galle. After the ship was discovered in 1993 it became clear that the wreck was increasingly exposed, and it was considered important to implement a rescue archaeology project on the site to safeguard this important collection. From 2001 till the end of 2004 important sections of the ship have been excavated, collections conserved and preparations made to open a first gallery in the National Maritime Museum in Galle at the end of 2005.
On 26 December 2004, only days after the excavation of the Avondster was finalized, the MAU premises was destroyed in the Tsunami. Luckily all members of the team survived the killer-wave, but a substantial part of the historical collections and equipment were lost. It is unsettling to realize that all the efforts to safeguard an important historical collection have eventually contributed to the opposite; the loss of a substantial part of the excavated collection while the remaining artefacts on the wreck are possibly now better conserved due to a thick layer of Tsunami sediment. The staff of the MAU had prepared a programme for the survey, management and presentation of other maritime heritage in Galle starting January 2005. Despite the unfathomable humanitarian disaster that is taking place around them and the loss of their facilities, the spirit of this group of young professionals is unbroken. They are determined that the future for this new discipline and thus their own future should not be washed away by the Tsunami.
Immediately after the disaster an international network was activated to bring together the necessary equipment and funds. Nearly three months after the Tsunami destroyed the facilities, the team are in a position to resume their activities. On 24 March the new building for the MAU was officially opened and the basic infrastructure was restored and the recovered artefacts placed back in conservation. Risk and decay of collections are inherent in almost any kind of historical-archaeological investigation and museum display. It is ironical that the sea took a collection, once formed through a shipwreck, now centuries later for the second time. The fact that the wreck site appears untouched by the Tsunami raises the issue of where is the safest place for the material. However, at the end of the day it will be determination of these young professionals that will safeguard the collection, wherever it is situated, for future generations. With their enthusiasm to show the rich maritime history of Sri Lanka to the world, the maritime heritage might be safeguarded from the biggest threat it faces; the treasure hunters who are still creating a much bigger risk to heritage in the region than any natural disaster.
- Capacity building (training and infrastructure) in the field of maritime archaeology and the conservation of the salvaged artefacts.
- To conserve and investigate the Avondster site.
- To gain knowledge on Dutch ship-wrecks in the Bay of Galle, and Dutch shipwrecks from the colonial expansion time in general.
- Developing a research programme about the role of Galle as an emporium in the Indian Ocean region.
- Increasing public awareness through the establishment of a maritime archaeological museum in Sri Lanka.
- To formulate a viable policy for the protection of antiquities.
Following this project, the CCF will explore the possibility of developing underwater tourism within and in the vicinity of the Galle harbour. The MAU has now grown into a full institutional operation under Deputy Director General, Dr. Mohan Abeyratne and with UNESCO Bangkok funding for the commencement of the Asia-Pacific Maritime Training School. Policy papers are now being framed to establish the International Oceanographic Research Institute linked to the MAU in Galle.
Parthesius, R. (ed.) Avondster Project. Excavation report of the VOC ship Avondster (2007)
Parthesius, R. (ed.) Avondster Project. Artefact Catalogue of the VOC ship Avondster (2007)
Central Cultural Fund
Mutual Heritage Centre Sri Lanka
Centre for International Heritage Activities
University of Amsterdam
Western Australian Maritime Museum
Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Colombo, Sri Lanka
Prince Claus Fund, Cultural Emergency Response
Amsterdam Centre for Golden Age Studies, University of Amsterdam
Australasian Institute for Maritime Archaeology
Foundation De Vuurslag, Stichting de Vuurslag
Kamal de Soyza
K. D. Palita Weerasinghe