Race to Save Ancient Human Secrets

WORLD

Archaeologists enlist UNESCO’s help to protect prehistoric sites threatened by karst quarrying. (Nat Geo News)

What is karst? Find out here!

Teachers, scroll down for a quick list of key resources in our Teachers’ Toolkit.

Ancient people of the island of Borneo made these impressions of their hands in cliffside caves 10,000 years ago. Photograph by Luc-Henri Fage, courtesy Wikimedia and Borneo, Memory of the Caves. Public domain.

Ancient people of the island of Borneo made these impressions of their hands in cliffside caves 10,000 years ago. (Compare this beautiful rock art with what artists way on the other side of the Pacific were doing at about the same time.)
Photograph by Luc-Henri Fage, courtesy Wikimedia and Borneo, Memory of the Caves. Public domain.

Today, Borneo is shared by the nations of Malaysia, Indonesia, and Brunei. The transboundary conservation area encompasses a sliver of the central part of the island along the border of Indonesia and Malaysia. Map by National Geographic

Today, Borneo is shared by the nations of Malaysia, Indonesia, and Brunei. 
Map by National Geographic

Discussion Ideas

  • The Nat Geo News article outlines threats faced by Borneo’s karst landscape. What is karst? Read through our super-short encyclopedic entry to find out.
    • Karst is an area of land made up of limestone. Limestone, also known as chalk or calcium carbonate, is a soft rock that dissolves in water. As rainwater seeps into the limestone, it slowly erodes. As a result, karst landscapes are dotted with sinkholes, caves, and other anomalies.

 

  • What are the leading threats to Borneo’s karst landscape?
    • agriculture. Farmers and agribusinesses clear land (often through fire) to establish lucrative oil palm plantations.
    • logging. Legal and illegal timber operations harvest fast-growing tropical trees such as beechwood and acacia, which are used in the plywood industry. Clearing land for oil palm plantations also contributes to deforestation in Borneo.
    • forest fires. Many fires are intentionally set to clear land for agriculture.
    • mining. Operators of legal and illegal quarries extract limestone, primarily for use in cement.

 

  • Why do limestone quarries put karst landscapes particularly at risk?
    • Karst landscapes are dotted with caves, underground streams, and sinkholes. Mining in one area could collapse connected regions. “The karst is like a labyrinth—so much could be lost to quarrying,” says Pak Made Kusumajaya, the head of Indonesia’s National Conservation and Museum Agency.

 

 

TEACHERS’ TOOLKIT

Nat Geo: A Race to Save Ancient Human Secrets in Borneo

Nat Geo: What is karst?

Nat Geo: What is World Heritage?

UNESCO: Sangkulirang – Mangkalihat Karst: Prehistoric rock art area

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