Kuk Early Agricultural Site
Kuk Early Agricultural Site consists of 116 ha of swamps in the western highlands of New Guinea 1,500 metres above sea-level. Archaeological excavation has revealed the landscape to be one of wetland reclamation worked almost continuously for 7,000, and possibly for 10,000 years. It contains well-preserved archaeological remains demonstrating the technological leap which transformed plant exploitation to agriculture around 6,500 years ago. It is an excellent example of transformation of agricultural practices over time, from cultivation mounds to draining the wetlands through the digging of ditches with wooden tools. Kuk is one of the few places in the world where archaeological evidence suggests independent agricultural development and changes in agricultural practice over such a long period of time.
Outstanding Universal Value
The Kuk Early Agricultural Site, a well-preserved buried archaeological testimony, demonstrates an independent technological leap which transformed plant exploitation to agriculture around 7,000-6,400 years ago, based on vegetative propagation of bananas, taro and yam. It is an excellent example of transformation of agricultural practices over time from mounds on wetland margins around 7,000-6,400 years ago to drainage of the wetlands through digging of ditches with wooden tools from 4,000 BP to the present. The archaeological evidence reveals remarkably persistent but episodic traditional land-use and practices where the genesis of that land-use can be established and changes in practice over time demonstrated from possibly as early as 10,000 BP to the present day.
Criterion (iii): The extent of the evidence of early agriculture on the Kuk site can be seen as an exceptional testimony to a type of exploitation of the land which reflects the culture of early man in the region.
Criterion (iv): Kuk is one of the few places in the world where archaeological evidence suggests independent agricultural development and changes in agricultural practice over a 7,000 and possibly a 10,000 year time span.
Archaeological investigations have been intensive rather than extensive and excavations have affected only a minor proportion of the core area of the site. Modern farming activities at Kuk remain relatively low-key and do not intrude upon the archaeological features of the site. The integrity of the site is thus maintained. The excavations and scientific work that have been done at the site are of the highest international professional standard and thus the excavated remains retain their authenticity. Contemporary land-use has been restricted to modern versions of traditional activities and is supportive to the authenticity of the core evidence on the site.
The legal protection in place is adequate, but customary protection needs confirmation as soon as possible through the designation of the property as a Conservation Area and through the associated formal land management agreement with the local community for aspects of site management. The Management Plan should be completed as soon as possible and formally resourced and implemented, and a formal memoranda of understanding established among relevant national, provincial and local government authorities and other stakeholders concerning management responsibilities on the ground and reporting lines.
Until around 100 years ago the Kuk wetlands were farmed traditionally with bananas and root crops grown on land drained by ditches and around the margins of the valley grassland burned periodically to encourage good grazing for animals. This latter practice persisted until the 1930s when Europeans arrived to prospect for gold and as missionaries. The first coffee and tea plantations followed quickly after the access road had been created in the 1950s.
In 1968 the Kuk swamp was leased from the Kawelkas people for 99 years by the Australian colonial administration and a research station was established first for tea and later for other crops. The swamp was drained with parallel drainage trenches across the landscape, and eucalyptus trees planted along parallel roads between experimental plots.
The traditional gardening patterns that existed up until the 1950s were overlaid for a comparatively short period (approximately 40 years). Just before the independence of Papua New Guinea in 1975, archaeological investigations of the newly dug plantation drains were begun under the direction of the Australian National University. For four years until 1977 large-scale excavations revealed traces of ancient drainage systems. With the closure of the Research station in 1991, excavations ceased and local people begun once more to farm the land.
Although the colonial style plantation/research station era of Kuk was a comparatively a short break in traditional cultivation, it appears to have markedly changed the mosaic pattern of gardens and the informal pattern of the drainage networks. The gardening practiced today although re-establishing some traditional practices has also integrated commercial crops such as coffee with traditional food plants and appears to be grided by the drainage trenches of the plantation/research station era.
In 1997 the Papua New Guinea National Museum working with experts from the University of Papua New Guinea started to negotiate for international recognitions of the property as a World Heritage site. Multidisciplinary investigations were carried out over two years in 1998 and 1999 to re-assess earlier work and to try and establish firm dating.Source: Advisory Body Evaluation