By Naguib Amin and Michael Jones

Although local authorities have initiated activities related to site management, these mostly concern infrastructure, quasi-professional conservation projects, and arrangements for visitors. While restoration work is extensive for the monuments of Memphis, the pyramids area, and Luxor, basic facilities, explanatory panels and booklets, and easy access are lacking. Comprehensive site management plans are only now being developed, as a combination of circumstances supported by new political interests offers an important chance for progress in this field.

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The secretary general of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), Zahi Hawass, has recognized the opportunities for proper site management and the need for capacity building in the SCA and other responsible authorities. The site management training project of the American Research Center in Egypt (ARCE)—funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID)—was a response to a long-expressed request by the SCA to increase within its institution knowledge and skills in historic site management. The overall objective of the training program, initiated in 2006, was to promote effective and integrated site management in Egypt and, more specifically, to increase the expertise of the SCA to formulate, implement, and administer site management plans that would protect the country's outstanding heritage, improve site interpretation, and provide the means to handle risks at sites.

From the several locations considered for the training program, Luxor was chosen because of its World Heritage status and the intensity of many of the conservation issues described above. Medinet Habu—the memorial complex of Ramses III at the southern end of the Theban Necropolis—was selected for the on-site training. This complex, while an integral part of the West Bank historic landscape, remains a discrete area with good teaching potential. Issues can be studied with a clear focus and then linked to the wider neighboring district.

To serve as the SCA's site management headquarters, the first Luxor house of Howard Carter (dating from 1902) was renovated. Carter was the archaeologist who discovered Tutankhamen's tomb, and so the house has special meaning because of its significant link to the history of Egyptology. Holding the training in this location fosters a sense of participation in a process that connects present SCA inspectors with their predecessors at the site.

The aim of the ARCE training program was to create a center of excellence to perpetuate site management within the SCA upon the conclusion of ARCE assistance. The program aspired to introduce modern site management concepts within the context of conditions prevailing in Egypt; it drew on experiences worldwide and judiciously evaluated them to determine what would work in Egypt. In spring 2006, sixty-four SCA inspectors were trained in a sixteen-week course led by Naguib Amin of the Egypt Antiquities Information System and conducted by professionals from Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, France, Germany, and the United States. The course focused on three areas:

  • International principles of site management and their applications, with reference to the Venice Charter, Lahore Statement, Nara Document on Authenticity, and Burra Charter;
  • Site assessment, including historic site documentation and recording, assessment of needs, determination of threats and risks to historic sites, and setting of priorities for interventions;
  • Design and preparation of an actual site management plan for Medinet Habu, in all its complex aspects—from defining strategies (including how to involve local inhabitants) to organizing implementation, conducting regular monitoring, and adapting to changing circumstances.
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In summer 2006, in the weeks preceding the demolition of the modern settlements over the tombs on the hillsides of Sheikh Abd al-Qurna and Dra' Abu al-Nag'a, an emergency site management response was required. SCA participants from the ARCE site management course were able to document and record traditional houses before they were destroyed. They were also active in developing plans for the adaptive reuse of the houses selected to remain. On the East Bank at Luxor and Karnak, the clearance of structures along the Avenue of Sphinxes and the development of tourist facilities in front of the Karnak Temple offered opportunities for the trainees to apply their archaeological site management knowledge to real-life situations.

Program participants returned to Medinet Habu in December 2007 for a one-month follow-up course. As the first step in the implementation of their Medinet Habu site management plan, they composed texts and designed layouts for information panels. This step was carried out entirely in Arabic. English-language adaptations of the texts are under way. Direct translations, we now realize, do not satisfy the different cultural interests of Egyptian and foreign visitors.

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Much of the technical literature on site management is available only in European languages, and this often leads to an incomplete understanding of other approaches to site management. Emphasizing the Egyptian context and the Arabic language are central to this project, and much of the classroom activity and all on-site discussion took place in Arabic. Furthermore, the creation of Arabic manuals derived from the classroom training and site assessments formed the basis of a body of practical literature in site management that we hope will grow and receive further refinements as the impact of the training becomes more widely felt.

It must be recognized that the overwhelming need for effective site management countrywide cannot be addressed solely by a localized project aimed at training a select, small group in a high-profile locality such as Luxor. Nevertheless, such a training project is important for increasing knowledge and awareness among the participants, thereby enabling them to play active and informed roles in leading new initiatives within the SCA. Zahi Hawass has now established a new site management department of the SCA, and several of those who participated in the ARCE training project at Medinet Habu have been appointed to it. Meanwhile, at Medinet Habu itself, information signs will be installed under the supervision of the participants, and further plans for visitor management may be developed in coming seasons.

Naguib Amin is director of the Egypt Antiquities Information System. Michael Jones is associate director of the Egyptian Antiquities Conservation Project at the American Research Center in Egypt.