Shifting Perspectives

Work in Charleston seeks to honor cultural heritage through conservation

Conservators at Clemson’s Warren Lasch Conservation Center in Charleston have been working on preserving the Civil War-era Hunley submarine for a number of years. Now, there’s another vessel to be preserved. And this one is far older.

With a new project involving a Native American dugout canoe that has been carbon dated as more than 4,000 years old, the center is hoping to shift the conversation and process of conservation by incorporating cultural groups on the front end of the project to help guide the conservation of cultural heritage items, providing those groups with direct access and authority over their cultural heritage.

When the team was asked to take on the canoe’s conservation, the first thing they did was to begin working on a way to recognize the rights of the Native American communities of South Carolina “to maintain, control, protect and develop their intellectual property over such cultural heritage, traditional knowledge and traditional cultural expressions,” as defined in Article 31 of the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

In late May, the conservation team hosted a consultative event with eight Native American tribes in South Carolina where tribal representatives viewed the canoe and heard about options for conservation. The team then opened the floor for discussion on next steps for the 

canoe — giving the tribes full control over how this item from their cultural heritage would be cared for moving forward.

The tribal representatives agreed that conservation was of the utmost importance and approved a plan for the canoe’s conservation. Now the hands-on work with the canoe begins — the Clemson team will begin conservation treatment of the canoe, which is expected to take several years to complete.

 

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