Rebuilding Nepal’s ancient architecture

A Melbourne archaeologist is joining international efforts to rebuild some of Kathmandu’s ancient temples devastated by the 2015 earthquake.

A Melbourne archaeologist is joining international efforts to rebuild some of Kathmandu’s ancient temples devastated by the 2015 earthquake.

La Trobe University Lecturer Dr Keir Strickland will work alongside an international team of archaeologists, architects, engineers, and soil scientists to assess the damage caused to the UNESCO World Heritage Sites of the Kathmandu Valley.

The 7.8 magnitude earthquake, which struck Nepal in April last year, killed more than 8,000 people and left many thousands more homeless. However, the natural disaster was not only a human catastrophe, but also a cultural one.

“Hundreds of beautifully ornate temples of timber, stone, brick, and bronze, which played an intangible role in the daily lives of thousands of locals, were damaged or destroyed by the earthquake. These sacred sites linked the earth with the heavens, connecting devotees with their guiding deities,” Dr Strickland said.

“However, they were also a major source of income and economic growth for the tourism industry -­‐ a key component of Nepal’s fragile economy.”

More than a year on, much of the debris has been cleared away, but there is still a huge amount of work to be done before the process of rebuilding the historically important buildings can begin.

“Unfortunately, these buildings have been further damaged since the earthquake by some agencies conducting non-­‐emergency works aiming to restore these heritage sites. Activities such as engineering contractors cutting exploratory trenches into foundations have further contributed to the destruction of the subsurface heritage of the World Heritage Site.”

The project team, funded by the British Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and lead by UNESCO Chair Professor Robin Coningham of Durham University in the UK, Mr Kosh Prasad Acharya, former Director-­‐General of Archaeology, Government of Nepal, and Ram Bahadur Kunwar, of the Department of Archaeology, Government of Nepal, will focus on the Kasthamandap Temple, in Kathmandu Durbar Square, along with shrines at nearby Hanuman Dhoka – the centuries old monumental Royal Palace of the Malla kings.

One of Kathmandu’s most iconic and revered monuments, the Kasthamandap temple was reduced to rubble by the earthquake. Preliminary investigations by the team in November 2015 uncovered the building’s foundations along with other earlier buildings, which suggests that Kasthamandap itself may be older than had previously been believed.

“The temple was one of the most recognisable, and most loved buildings in Kathmandu and quite understandably there’s huge pressure on the Nepali government to rebuild it, and as quickly as possible,” Dr Strickland said.

However, it’s critical that these historic sites of such outstanding universal value are restored in ways that do not further damage them, and which maintains their authenticity and integrity – hopefully for centuries to come.

“In order to do this we will be conducting keyhole archaeological excavations around the foundations of the Kasthamandap to assess their condition, as well as better understand the original design that had been so resilient to previous earthquakes. We will also be conducting keyhole excavations on monuments at the nearby Hanuman Dhoka complex, and using a laser scanner to survey and record these hugely important monuments.

Dr Strickland has been working in Nepal since 2001, when he spent six months living in a Buddhist monastery during a cultural and environmental monitoring mission for UNESCO. More recently, he was part of the international team of archaeologists who identified the remains of the earliest Buddhist shrine in Asia at the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Lumbini.

Photo: Kathmandu Durbar Square in 201, credit: Dr Keir Strickland

Media: Briena Barrett 0432 566 014