Bilingual, Web-Based Geographic Information Systems Will Aid in Protecting and Managing Important Archaeological Sites in the Middle East
September 9, 2008
LOS ANGELES—The looting and destruction of archaeological sites in the wake of the Iraq war shows that protecting a country’s cultural heritage during a time of conflict is no easy task, especially when that heritage involves historically important sites that can’t be moved out of harm’s way.
But even in times of peace, the preservation of a country’s archaeological heritage depends upon a comprehensive understanding of historic site locations, dimensions, and their key characteristics. And while the boundaries of ancient Mesopotamian cities such as the mud-brick of Babylon in Iraq or the distinctive rock cut architecture of Petra in Jordan are more difficult to miss, they, along with smaller, less well-known sites are increasingly at risk from a range of threats including tourism and urban encroachment.
Now, partnerships between the Getty Conservation Institute (GCI) in Los Angeles, the World Monuments Fund (WMF), and separately with the Jordanian Department of Antiquities (DoA) and the Iraq State Board of Antiquities and Heritage (SBAH) aim to aid in the complicated task of inventorying, monitoring, and managing archaeological sites and monuments in the Middle East to help protect them for future generations.
Dubbed the Middle Eastern Geodatabase for Antiquities, Jordan—or MEGA-J—a newly designed Arabic-English, web-based geographic information system in development first for Jordan will standardize and centralize information on archaeological sites throughout the country into a single system, maintaining information on exact locations and boundaries, site characteristics, and condition. Developed by the GCI in collaboration with consultant Farallon Geographics, Inc., MEGA-J will play an important role in preserving Jordan's archaeological treasures, and will serve as the prototype model for a similar system to be undertaken after the war ends in Iraq.
“The archaeological record found in Jordan and Iraq is one of the most important in the world, and the Getty Conservation Institute is pleased to be able to partner with the World Monuments Fund and the Jordanian Department of Antiquities on a project that aids in saving this rich cultural heritage for future generations,” said Tim Whalen, Director of the Getty Conservation Institute.
Adds Gaetano Palumbo, the World Monuments Fund’s area representative for Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia, “The World Monuments Fund is committed to this collaborative effort to increase the capacity to protect and manage the archaeological heritage of Jordan and Iraq . If ever there was a time to undertake this important effort, it is now.”
As a planning and decision-making tool, MEGA will allow officials to address issues such as site protection and management, infrastructure and development control, and compliance with World Heritage site requirements, and will be used in the development of national and regional research strategies. Importantly, MEGA will enable the DoA to coordinate heritage site data with other national authorities, such as ministries dealing with infrastructure development, agriculture, and tourism, as well as provincial and municipal governments.
“Jordan pioneered a database for the management of archaeological sites in the early 1990s, originally called JADIS,” said Dr. Fawwaz Al-Khraysheh, director general of the DoA. “That database needed to be replaced and the DoA, in looking for a partner, turned to the GCI and WMF for the development of MEGA-Jordan.” Dr. Al-Khraysheh also noted that “Jordan will now continue its pioneering role in implementing and fully integrating the use of MEGA-J into the DoA’s daily activities, and in training our colleagues from the region on such programs.”
The system will be especially important in terms of infrastructure and development planning. When the exact location and boundaries of a cultural site are not known, it becomes difficult to manage the site. The MEGA-J system will allow the DoA to effectively address the potential impact of projects like construction of buildings, roadways, and pipelines on or near archaeological sites. This particular risk is especially relevant in Jordan today due to the recent influx of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi refugees, regional investment in the country, and the resulting boom in development.
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