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On The Advent Of Space Archaeology [VIDEO]

Apr 22, 2013 05:07 PM EDT

A group of researchers are growing increasingly concerned about the future of artifacts from Space, and in doing so are paving the way to a new field of study and science: Space archaeology.

“The cultural landscape of space includes both sites and objects on and off Earth,” Beth O’Leary, an associate professor of anthropology at the University of New Mexico said, according to “It is necessary to evaluate the significance of the latter and treat them as important objects and places worthy of legitimate archaeological inquiry.”

Among those objects and locations of concern are the Apollo landing sites, far-flung spacecraft and debris once thought of as simply “space junk.”

O’Leary has gone so far, in fact, as to lead a NASA-funded endeavor to make the 1969 Apollo lunar landing site a national historic landmark, as described at the annual meeting of the Society for American Archaeology held April 3 to 7.

She’s joined by Lisa Westwood of California State University who co-chaired the conference’s session on space archaeology.

Together, the two look to broaden the interpretation of the World Heritage Convention passed by UNESCO in 1972 to protect nations’ monuments and important historical sites.

“We can now broaden that view to encompass many other historic properties on Earth, on the moon and beyond,” Westwood said.

Joe Reynolds of Clemson University echoes the women’s thoughts, calling himself “a preservationist trying to protect a human archaeological site 233,000 miles away.”

However, should the group of scientists pioneering the new field succeed, they will have to get through the Outer Space Treaty of 1967, which states that countries cannot exercise territorial sovereignty over the moon or other Space bodies.

Reynolds said he’s studied the treaty, and many others, including the Geneva Convention, the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 and the Antiquities Act of 1906, and that he doesn't see a problem.

“The Apollo 11 Lunar Landing Site can be legally protected,” he said. “What my colleagues and I are trying to accomplish is to legally protect a site of unprecedented human achievement on land that cannot be owned by anyone.”

This, he said, has been done before, such as on international waters and the Antarctic continent.

In fact, Reynolds believes that, under the Antiquities Act, all the site needs to become a national monument is the stroke of the U.S. president’s pen.

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