Marine Cultural Heritage in Northern Mozambique

By Colin Breen

At the end of April I again travelled to Mozambique, in support of a number of forthcoming Rising from the Depths projects. The particular focus of the visit was the spectacular world heritage site of Ilha de la Mozambique, a small island off the coast that served as a major trading centre in the Western Indian Ocean. It became the centre for Portuguese trading activities in this region, and was strongly linked with the slave trade. The island contains a rich array of historic buildings including forts and churches, but also has an extraordinary shipwreck resource, with dozens of late and post medieval wreck sites known. Unfortunately, many of these were subject to pillaging during the 1990s and 2000s, as commercial treasure hunters ravaged what is probably the most important collection of historic wreck sites anywhere in the world. Local archaeologists, under the direction of Ricardo Duarte, and supported by the community, have set up a research centre in the ancient fortress on the island, supported by US Ambassador Funds, to conduct new and exciting work on this underwater resource. The Rising from the Depths network has funded a project led jointly by Duarte and Wes Forsythe at Ulster University, Marine Cultural Heritage in Northern Mozambique, which aims to further extend this work through an integrated marine survey examining past and present sea-level and environmental change. This will be an immersive project, engaging with communities across the island, and adjacent coastal areas, to develop more robust understandings of environmental change in the area, and to further develop community resilience and adaptation strategies in light of these changes.

Ilha de Mozambique

Our visit was particularly opportune as we arrived at the same time as Cyclone Kenneth hit the northern coast of the country. This was the second major storm event to hit this coast this year, and its intensity, duration and associated level of flooding has been linked to climate change by meteorologists. While the damage to the Ilha and nearby mainland was limited to a degree of flooding, there was significant loss of life and infrastructural damage further north. Its impact highlighted the contribution our projects will make towards strengthening communities, and understanding the myriad of challenges they face. Time and time again local people expressed their anger to us about how the Global North bears primary responsibility for these changes, given Mozambique’s perceived limited contribution to global emissions. There was also a high degree of interest shown in the new exploration activities taking place off the coast, but also concern at the increasing levels of violence present in this area that has been variously labelled as terrorism, radicalism or banditry.

The Ilha has been subject to decades of interest from a heritage and conservation perspective. Yet, the island’s incredible heritage resource still faces significant pressures from environmental and societal activities. Challenges remain around promoting heritage values, and questions around who decides what these values are. More specifically, I was asked again and again, how heritage, and the types of projects we are involved in, will work towards poverty alleviation. That is one of the key challenges we have set up for ourselves, and one that we will be working hard to achieve over the coming years.



SDGsMarine heritage and sustainable development

By Jon Henderson

I’m just back from the Society for American Archaeology’s (SAA) 84th Annual Meeting in Albuquerque where I took part in the HumAnE Archaeology Session organised by Carly Ameen and Naomi Sykes from the University of Exeter. Through a series of papers the session looked at using combined human-animal-environmental (HumAnE) data and how that can be analysed using a variety of arts and science-based techniques to unpick and model long-term bio-cultural dynamics.

Archaeology has always been interdisciplinary but I think we are at an exciting point with sessions like this stressing how long-term archaeological data, bio-cultural data and deep time data can inform solutions to the current global problems facing humanity. Archaeologists are uniquely placed to contribute a deep-time perspective on contemporary humanitarian issues, like those identified in the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, which are not exclusively modern phenomenon. Deep-time archaeological data can be collated, analysed and presented to help inform solutions to modern global challenges such as the effects of intensive food production, urbanisation, globalisation, climate change, disease transmission and inter-cultural conflict.

Using data from Rising from the Depths, my paper examined the legacy of the oceans and how data from past marine exploitation can help inform the sustainable development agenda. SDG14 Life Below Water recognises the economic and social benefits that sustainable use of marine resources can provide, including enhanced food security, sustainable energy generation, and poverty eradication through marine orientated livelihood opportunities. Providing deep-time data over millennia, the marine archaeological resource has more to offer than solutions based on tourism. For example, coastal management strategies and conservation projects rely on short-term baseline data that, at best, cover little more than a century. As a result, projects and strategies put into place are limited, and do not fully reflect ecosystem dynamics or the relative resilience of different species to the effects of both human activities and changes driven by long term climatic and other environmental factors.

Next month I’m off to the 1st Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) Global Planning Meeting for the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development in Copenhagen to make the case for considering marine heritage data in formulating sustainable solutions to the problems facing our oceans. While environmental sciences and ecological approaches have had a major role in the development of solutions, the potential role of marine cultural heritage as a usable resource and the long-term cultural importance of the marine environment are still not being properly considered. It is my belief that a marine cultural heritage outlook (prioritising human interaction with the sea in all its diversity) could provide the conceptual framework that unites, stimulates and informs interdisciplinary responses to the challenges set out in SDG 14. Wish me luck!


Snapshots of research in Maputo, Mozambique – Rosalie Hans

Being back in Mozambique for the first time since 2010 provides an interesting mixture of recognition, nostalgia and learning about the many changes the country has gone through in the last 9 years. I am fortunate to be here for one month for a pilot study on maritime museums and how these institutions can increase their role and relevance for their maritime communities. This collaborative project with Daniel Inoque of the Instituto Superior de Artes e Cultura has led us to research the Museu das Pescas in Maputo and the Museu da Marinha on Mozambique Island (Ilha de Moçambique). The first museum was opened in 2014 and shows the traditional fishing culture of the Mozambican coast in a modern building while the naval museum has been open since 1969 and forms part of a museum complex with the Palacio de São Paulo and the Museum of Sacred Art, located in a monumental building.


Apart from the challenge of speaking Portuguese the entire day, which I love but at times requires the patience of my colleagues, there are so many other aspects of the research that are not strictly speaking ‘research activities’ but nonetheless are necessary to make the research happen. While I was aware of this from my own PhD research in Kenya and Uganda, I still underestimated the time we are spending in meetings, making phone calls and negotiating administrative and infrastructural issues. As an early career researcher this is a useful lesson to be reminded of and hopefully the connections made and network built over these few weeks will be the foundations of future research in Mozambique on maritime cultural heritage.


The research so far, and the meetings with the fishing community of Costa do Sol in Maputo in particular, has been rewarding and insightful. The Conselho Comunitário de Pesca (CCP) or the Community Council of Fisheries is an active organisation at Costa do Sol, a neighbourhood known as Bairro dos Pescadores, where, unsurprisingly, the majority of people lives from artisanal (or small-scale) fishing. The president and secretary of the CCP helped us to invite different people to talk to about their perspective on fishing culture, their lives and current issues and challenges in their community and we conducted a number of interviews, returning another day for a group meeting. The different people we spoke to were keen to get across the importance of knowledge about different types of fish and preservation of the maritime ecosystem in Maputo Bay. While they showed pride in the boats they built, owned and maintained, the increase in the number of fishermen and the decrease of the average daily catch led our participants to conclude that they wanted a better life for their children outside of the fishing industry. They generally found that many Mozambicans and visitors were unaware of the hardships of fishing life.


In the Baixa of Maputo the Museu das Pescas is still developing its vision and direction for the future. The current indoor and outdoor exhibitions focus mainly on the material culture of the artisanal fishing industry but museum staff expressed plans to broaden its remit to include more of Mozambique’s diverse maritime heritage. We discussed how such an expansion could include the ideas of fishing communities, could be used to give visibility to the challenges of the fishing communities along the Mozambican coast and allow them to feel pride and ownership of their knowledge and skills.


The research continues this week in Mozambique Island, a UNESCO world heritage site in the north of Mozambique where centuries of global trade, occupation, resistance and renewal have led to a unique architectural mixture, with many different aspects of maritime cultural heritage to be considered. More on that in the next blog! Questions, suggestions and comments are always welcome, just email me on!

Communities, Coastlines and Collaborations at the African Archaeology Research Day (AARD)

AARD Annalisa presentation
Dr Annalisa Christie presents on the challenges and opportunities of maritime archaeology

Last Saturday the annual African Archaeology Research Day (AARD) was held in Cambridge at the McDonald Institute and I went along to find out about the latest research on the African continent and catching up with the work of old and new friends. It turned out that the Friday evening before the conference was already inspiring; Dr Kristina Douglass of PennState University gave an extremely interesting lecture on Human-Environment Dynamics in Madagascar Archaeology while looking through the lens of her work on the south-east coast of the island. What struck me most was the direct impact archaeological research into human-environment relations has on the narrative present in Madagascar that emphasises the damaging effects of humans on the environment, affecting current conservation efforts of the island’s unique ecosystems and the ways in which these efforts affect people’s lives. In addition, her description of collaborative research with communities living around her archaeological sites and the citizen science they are carrying out together provides a great example of how archaeology (and related fields) can generate knowledge and create sustainable impacts for people’s lives and livelihoods (her research is featured in this article on collaborative research: ). Examples of research like this is what Rising from the Depths aims to promote through its funding calls and I believe collaborating with those who live in maritime heritage landscapes is the way forward to ensure research leads to benefits for communities.

After this prelude, the Communities & Heritage panel at the start of the Saturday demonstrated that there is still a long way to go before participatory research methods will become the norm. Traditional archaeological research is still often about communities but not necessarily co-created with communities, although different presenters showed that more research is now concerned with understanding concepts such as identity, indigeneity and the preservation of heritage for present communities. There is certainly scope for Rising from the Depths and other projects to further explore and promote co-produced research in order to ensure that knowledge is not restricted to academic journals but reaches further to the general public and the involved communities in particular. Another highlight of the day, for a post-doc looking at maritime heritage, was obviously the Seas & Coasts panel where Dr Annalisa Christie gave a clear and accessible overview on the current challenges and opportunities of maritime archaeology that was right up RftD’s street. The panel’s examples of research taking place on all coastlines of the African continent confirmed that the interest in African maritime archaeology is growing steadily. But considering the challenges highlighted by Christie, such as erosion, sedimentation, lack of legislation and large industrial developments, it would be great if this field could be further expanded. As always, ideas and suggestions for research and network connections are welcome here at Rising from the Depths!

At the end of the long and thought-provoking day, Dr Timothy Clack and Dr Marcus Brittain presented their edited book The River: Peoples and Histories of the Omo-Turkana Area. Highlighting the immense cultural and natural diversity of this region but also its vulnerability due to rapid change, the authors choose to make this publication open access (link: As they state: ‘In face of new and compelling challenges, the need to engage with and gain an understanding of the wealth of heritage, culture and humanity in this unique location is imperative.’ (2018, X). Overall, a great conference to have been part of with much to consider for future pathways of Rising from the Depths.

Thank you for reading,


The Value of Marine Cultural Heritage

What is the value of marine cultural heritage? Indeed, what is the value of cultural heritage, or more broadly even, culture? I have been interested in these questions since I decided to study Museum Studies in 2008, and they are still relevant now that I am looking at what marine cultural heritage (MCH) can contribute to social, economic and cultural development challenges in eastern Africa. Obviously, I am not the first person to ask these questions and I will definitely not be the last, as the answers are varied and dependent on who you ask. The fact that cultural heritage (and MCH by extension) is valuable to our lives is often not at issue, but how we go about demonstrating these values is. How do you measure inspiration, a change of mind, an eye-opening moment, a rekindled memory, or a feeling of belonging? It may be slightly easier to measure the value of cultural heritage for education or for social cohesion but even that can result in ‘vague’ statements if it goes beyond the number of visitors and school visits. Currently, the emphasis lies on the economic benefits of cultural heritage, and most methodologies use quantifiable metrics such as what visitors to heritage sites contributed to the economy, how many jobs have been created in the creative sector or how much the cultural sector participates in the tourism industry. Indeed, the methodology manual for the UNESCO Culture for Development Indicators states that: ‘The notion of heritage is important for culture and development insofar as it constitutes the ‘cultural capital’ of contemporary societies’ (2014, 130). But is that really all that cultural heritage does? How can we put in place measurements for the non-quantifiable stuff that is perhaps key to understanding why cultural heritage is so important for society, for us as human beings? Working as a post-doc at Rising from the Depths has made me think even more about the challenge of understanding the importance of MCH, because in a development context it is even more pertinent to justify why money is being spent on preserving, researching and presenting MCH. On top of that, our network is specifically looking at the benefits MCH can bring to development, which means thinking about the different ways in which MCH can contribute to society is integral. While an increasing number of publications have started to criticise the ways in which development is being tied to economic growth and being measured in terms of contributions to GDP (although a number of indexes and measurement tools have started to move away from this) it is still by far the largest component of justifying overseas development aid funding. In my ideal world, we would turn away completely from thinking about cultural heritage in economic terms and consider the intrinsic qualities of the sites, traditions and materials that we want to keep for the future. Personally, cultural heritage does not have to be a resource for making money to enjoy it, but with my obvious interests and background that might just be me. But since I can’t live in my daydreams, I am now looking at how we can measure social, economic and cultural impact delivered by MCH projects. I don’t have any answers yet but the hope is that as the Rising from the Depths project progresses we will start to learn more about the diverse effects of MCH in Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique and Madagascar through the individual projects that have been funded. We will trial evaluation methods based on Theory of Change to find out how we can best create evidence of the benefits of MCH in eastern Africa, and particularly how it can help to achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. As a network of scholars from all disciplines we are happy to hear from other people and initiatives grappling with these concepts, so if you want to get in touch feel free to do so! This is very much an on-going conversation and we will be updating this blog as we go along.

Thank you for reading,


Welcome to Writing from the Depths!

In this blog, us at Rising from the Depths will share what we’re working on, the challenges we encounter, the questions we ask and the debates we have related to the utilisation of marine cultural heritage in eastern Africa. The team will be posting irregular blog posts and any reader is more than welcome to get in touch, leave comments and contribute to the Rising from the Depths network.

Have a look at our website for more information: