Endangered Archaeology in the Middle East and North Africa (EAMENA)
Preserving endangered culture
University of Oxford, School of Archaeology
Endangered Archaeology in the Middle East and North Africa
The rich archaeological heritage of the Middle East and North Africa is under threat from agricultural development, urban expansion, warfare and looting. Many sites are poorly recorded, not documented at all, or even unknown. The lack of documentation makes effective protection impossible and efforts to undertake documentation are hampered for entire regions by the difficulty of access on the ground.
To address these issues, in 2015 we helped to set up the EAMENA project, a partnership between the University of Oxford, the University of Leicester and the University of Durham. The project combines satellite imagery, aerial photography and, where possible, site surveys to create a comprehensive database of archaeological sites and to monitor threats to archaeological heritage.
Today, EAMENA’s freely accessible database has more than 309,000 records relating to archaeological sites, across twenty countries from Mauritania to Iran: 75% of these sites were not previously recorded in any accessible form.
Although it was conflict, and especially the destruction wrought by Daesh (Islamic State) in the Middle East that raised awareness of the recent threats and damage to the cultural heritage – the project’s initial results show that the expansion of agricultural activity is the main cause of damage and destruction. Twenty nine per cent of the sites recorded have been affected by agriculture, and 39% are at risk of further damage by agriculture. Development is also a major threat, with houses, dams, industrial areas often built with minimal attention to the protection of the cultural heritage.
In 2018 we set up the Maritime Endangered Archaeology in the Middle East and North Africa (MarEA) project at the University of Southampton. MarEA explores endangered coastal and maritime archaeological and uses the EAMENA database. Its work increases the practical and the research potential of both projects.
Khirbat al Samra
These images are examples of the impact of increased agricultural activities.
Before: Khirbat al Samra, Ma’an, Jordan in 2016. An early Islamic caravanserai, one of three in the Ma’an area of southern Jordan, under threat from an encroaching olive plantation.
After: Khirbat al Samra, Ma’an, Jordan in 2018. The landowner has used the stones of the caravanserai as a platform for water tanks to irrigate the olive plantation.