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Don’t look up, look down! Kathmandu, UNESCO, Archaeology and learning from the 2015 Gorkha Earthquake, webinar

Event organised by Society for Earthquake and Civil Engineering Dynamics

25 November 2020

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The earthquake which struck Nepal in 2015 was a humanitarian disaster. Not only did it inflict tragic loss of life and livelihoods, it also destroyed parts of Kathmandu's unique UNESCO World Heritage site. These monuments were not just ornate structures but living monuments playing central roles in the daily lives of thousands. Their rehabilitation was of economic importance as they represent a major source of tourist income and employment. Unfortunately, the social and political desire to rapidly reconstruct resulted in the swift removal of many traditionally constructed foundations and their replacement with modern materials without assessments of whether these contributed to the collapse of an individual monument. These actions, combined with the wholesale removal and dumping of mixed modern and historic debris, contributed to a second, equally destructive, cultural catastrophe – irreversible damage to Kathmandu’s medieval archaeology.

This talk outlines the impact of the earthquake before drawing attention to the series of damaging interventions by first responders, architects and engineers - activities which cumulatively contributed to Kathmandu’s second cultural catastrophe. It also describes the process by which a team mobilized by UNESCO and the Government of Nepal explored the potential of post-disaster archaeological interventions. This ranged from using geophysical survey to create risk maps of subsurface archaeological deposits for urban planners to undertaking a major post-disaster excavation in the debris of the Kasthamandap. Encountering hitherto unknown medieval construction techniques and sequences, this new knowledge has directly contributed to its reconstruction. The talk will conclude by reviewing the lessons learned from the cultural impacts of the Gorkha Earthquake and the remaining challenges facing heritage managers.

For more information please contact:

Shelly-Ann Russell