Petra, Jericho, and the ancient port of Byblos are just three of the thousands of at-risk archaeological sites scattered across the Middle East and North Africa. The scope of what’s at stake may be difficult to grasp, but a database recently launched by the Universities of Oxford, Leicester and Durham, aims to familiarize the public with archaeological issues in the region and raise awareness of threats to its cultural heritage.
The online Endangered Archaeology in the Middle East and North Africa (EAMENA) Database catalogues over 20,000 archaeological sites at severe risk. Aside from the destruction wrought by wartime conflict, they also face damage from looting; agricultural practices; the construction of pipelines, refugee camps, and mining; and natural erosion. The database, which is available in both English and Arabic, is fully searchable and can be filtered by period and site type; some pre-populated searches of the latter include “Pendants,” or circular burial enclosures, and “Fortified farms in Libya,” of which there are nearly 600. You can also zoom in on the sites on a map of satellite imagery. Each one is assessed by the level of threat it faces and accompanied by information about its buildings and the sources of the disturbances affecting it.
Supported by Arcadia Fund, the database is the first of its kind and will be continually updated by the EAMENA team. EAMENA was first launched in 2015 to record and research the status of the region’s archaeology, with an emphasis on making information freely and easily accessible to others. Prior to launching the database, the team created an aerial photographic archive for archaeology in the Middle East that provided researchers with visual tools to better understand at-risk sites.
“Not all damage and threats to the archaeology can be prevented, but they can be mitigated through the sharing of information and specialist skills,” EAMENA’s director, Dr. Robert Bewley, said in a press release. “The archaeology of the Middle East and North Africa is exceptionally rich and diverse, giving insight into some of the earliest and most significant cultures in human history. Those seeking to deliberately damage archaeological sites are attacking the cultural heritage of all of us.”