Cultural Heritage, or How Bad News Can Also Be Good

  • Susan Barr
Part of the Springer Polar Sciences book series (SPPS)


The material cultural heritage of the High Arctic encompasses evidence of both indigenous and non-indigenous presence all over the area. Indeed, the term “Arctic wilderness” in the popularly-accepted understanding of areas that are untouched by humans, scarcely exists. Humans have left their mark all over the tundra in the form of unnatural stone arrangements that might have been a camping site from a few thousand years ago or a sign to show the way, mounds that indicate a collapsed dwelling site, or piles of animal and fish bones where a small group of families had their village long ago. In areas with no indigenous population, such as the archipelago of Norwegian Svalbard, humans first began their resource-exploiting activities in the early seventeenth century, and successive waves of hunters, explorers, prospectors, scientists and tourists have left behind the ruins and relics that we today consider to be heritage worthy of protection as sources of interest, appreciation and, not least, knowledge into the past.

Climate change is challenging the preservation of the Arctic cultural heritage as coastal erosion and milder, wetter and wilder weather conditions break down what was once protected by a dry and frozen climate. Work to protect and manage the heritage sites can seem as depressing as the stories of diminishing and threatened polar bear populations. However, also here there are several sides to the story and this chapter will present some of the positive results and implications of the climate change scenario on Arctic cultural heritage. These include enhanced understanding of the “population” of heritage sites and thereby of the whole history of the High Arctic, as well as increased international research and cooperation which has brought professionals in Arctic and Antarctic fields closer together.


Cultural heritage Svalbard Tourism Threats Positive developments 


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Susan Barr
    • 1
  1. 1.ICOMOS International Polar Heritage CommitteeCambridgeUK

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