Destruction at archaeological sites following Dakar Rally





Irreversible damage to a number of important archaeological sites in Chile and Argentina has been caused by the Dakar Rally, an annual off-road automobile race held in South America for the first time in January, in spite of persistent warnings from archaeologists and environmentalists both before and during the event. The extent of the damage emerged from a report submitted to the Chilean government by the National Monuments Council in early July. Expanding on preliminary findings published after the race in February, the report—extracts from which were published in the Santiago Times—claims that “irremediable damage” sustained at six archaeological sites could have been avoided if recommendations issued by the council in 2008 had been followed.

The world famous 15-day race, run along a notoriously tough course that originally started in Paris and finished in Dakar, Sudan, is contested by around 500 vehicles ranging from motorbikes to 4WDs and rally cars. The French organiser Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO) decided to move the rally to South America in 2009 after the threat of terrorist and rebel attacks caused its cancellation in 2008.

The response to the rally in South America has been very positive, with plans already well underway for a repeat running in 2010. With ASO claiming that the rally brought a total of $74.5m in sales and profits to Chile and Argentina, most of the archaeologists and environmentalists who have voiced their concerns about the rally have accepted that cancellation is an unlikely prospect—and that the threat to sites can best be minimised by ensuring that the route is thoroughly surveyed beforehand in close cooperation with the organisers. Other voices have been more forthright about the impact. “This [race] is absolutely illegal,” said Carlos Aldunate, director of Chile’s Museum of Pre-Columbian Art, to the Chilean newspaper El Mercurio. “If you destroy an archaeological site, you destroy a national monument.”

According to the National Monuments Council’s report, four of the sites that sustained damage are in the region of Atacama and two are in the region of Coquimbo, around 500km north of Santiago. The report focused specifically on Pelican Creek, near the town of La Higuera in Coquimbo, where a team of council archaeologists discovered a pre-Columbian hunter-gatherer camp, half of which had been destroyed by the race. The vehicles destroyed stone implements such as knives, arrowheads, spear points and scrapers as well as fragments of ceramics and shells, human bones, and rock structures dating between 9000BC and 1500AD. According to Óscar Acuña, the executive secretary of the council, only 120km or 10% of the route had actually been inspected and it was possible that more instances of damage could emerge.


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