Endangered Archaeology of the Middle East and North Africa

Principal Investigator: Prof. Andrew Wilson,
Co-Investigators: Dr Robert Bewley, Prof. David Kennedy, Prof. David Mattingly (Leicester)

The purpose of this two-year Arcadia Foundation funded project is to record and make available information about archaeological sites and landscapes which are under threat in the Middle East and North Africa.

The archaeological heritage of the Middle East and North Africa, which is of international significance for all periods, is under increasing threat from massive and sustained population explosion, agricultural development, urban expansion, warfare, and looting. This project will provide the information required for effective protection of these sites to the relevant authorities.

The use of satellite and aerial imagery is especially important for those countries where access on the ground is either impossible or severely restricted (e.g. Syria, Libya and Iraq). The project will record and map unrecorded and endangered sites, to a uniform standard, and to evaluate and monitor their condition.

The Middle East and North Africa, encompasses the great river valleys of Mesopotamia and Egypt.  The region is variously referred to as the Fertile Crescent, the Cradle of Civilization, as well as containing the Holy Land, the birth place of the world’s great monotheistic religions; it therefore contains some of the best preserved archaeology anywhere in the world. These archaeological sites are also some of the most vulnerable. The sites range in date from prehistory, through the earliest civilizations, the Greek, Roman and Islamic empires, to the modern era. Unfortunately this is a region where the destruction of archaeological sites and entire ancient human landscapes is increasing as a result of population explosion, migration and refugees, conflicts and civil wars.

From our extensive experience with Jordan, Libya, Syria and Saudi Arabia, a conservative estimate of the number of sites in ‘Arabia’ alone is in the region of 1.5 million. If one extrapolates from this, the total for the whole of the Middle East and North Africa may be as much as 3–5 million archaeological sites. Not all of these are currently endangered, but a significant percentage will be, and many more will come under threat. The vast majority of the sites are unrecorded and largely unknown to the relevant authorities in the countries concerned.

Unlike much of western Europe where many of the sites have been ploughed, and some of the remains are buried, largely invisible beneath the soil, these sites are (for the most part) visible on the surface and are made of stone or earth. However the agents of destruction in this region are much more devastating than just ploughing: looting, urban expansion, road and infrastructure building and quarrying, bombing and shelling, as well as the surface clearance of immense areas for agricultural expansion, often leaving no trace of these significant sites.

This project will provide the data to improve the preservation, management and conservation of endangered archaeological sites in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) from Iran to Mauretania, Syria to Egypt.

Using a combination of remote sensing techniques and follow-up fieldwork, the project will create an open-access database to record the information about each site and its condition, in a user-friendly GIS format. Using this information and a network of well-trained local staff (professional and voluntary) with the skills to identify and manage sensitive archaeological sites and landscapes, the heritage will be better managed.

The project will provide the information required to improve the conservation of threatened sites and landscapes, and the tools and technology to access and disseminate this information rapidly. Important partners range from national agencies in individual countries to the International Committee for the Blue Shield, NATO, UNESCO and the British Museum.

Project Director

Dr Robert Bewley

Administrative Assistant

Elaine Russell-Wilks

Post-doctoral Research Assistants/Image interpreters

Dr Michael Bishop

Dr Jennie Bradbury

Dr Emma Cunliffe

Dr Andrea Zerbini

Dr Michael Fradley

Nichole Sheldrick

Rebecca Banks

IT/GIS officer

Dr Richard Jennings

Post-doctoral Research Assistant (Leicester)

Dr Louise Rayne

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School of Archaeology > Research > Endangered Archaeology