Case Studies

Posted: 15 September 2020

Documenting threats to maritime and coastal archaeology in MENA

  • Programme:

    Preserving endangered culture

  • Focus area:

    Heritage sites

  • Grantee:

    University of Southampton

  • Project:

    Maritime Endangered Archaeology in the Middle East and North Africa

  • Grant awarded:

    $2,667,000

  • Years:

    2019-2024

The rate of cultural heritage loss on coasts caused by both natural and human factors is alarming. Many sites are lost without ever being recorded.

The Maritime Endangered Archaeology project (MarEA) documents the maritime and coastal archaeology of the Middle East and North Africa. Launched in 2019 with support from Arcadia, the project is run by the University of Southampton and Ulster University, in partnership with the EAMENA project at the University of Oxford. MarEA aims to rapidly and comprehensively document and assess threats to maritime and coastal archaeology from Morocco to Iran, along c. 55,000km of coastline. By creating a database of sites and reinforcing partnerships with institutions in the region, the project is working to establish foundations for the sustainable management of endangered maritime heritage.

Conflict, rapid development and industrial marine exploration all pose a threat to maritime cultural heritage sites. Storms and floods will increase in intensity as a result of climate change, putting many heritage sites at risk from rising sea-levels and coastal erosion.

As well as documenting archaeological sites, MarEA records evidence of past landscapes preserved in geological deposits and relict landforms. This enables a nuanced understanding of environmental change over time and gives an insight into the nature of archaeological sites and their relationship with the sea in the past, as well as the potential to locate and preserve unrecorded sites.

Through its partnership with the EAMENA project, MarEA’s digital open access site inventory will support regional agencies to better understand and manage their maritime cultural heritage. With support from the Cultural Protection Fund (CPF). Both the EAMENA and MarEA projects work with professionals and communities across the region to protect and interpret their cultural heritage.

Work by the MarEA team in the first year of the project has already documented numerous examples of disturbance, threat and landscape change.


Project examples

Tocra, Libya

The coastline of Cyrenacia, Libya, has suffered from erosion for at least the past 30 years. This has already damaged or destroyed multiple archaeological sites and is likely to worsen with sea-level rise and increased storm intensity. At Tocra, Libya, recent storm events exposed Classical-period buildings causing them to fall into the sea.

Sir Bani Yas Island

Documenting maritime cultural heritage, particularly submerged sites, can be challenging, but satellite imagery helps to detect shipwrecks and other features, especially in shallow water. Around Sir Bani Yas Island, Abu Dhabi, the Pearl Wreck’s visibility alternates with the rise and fall of the tide. Below is a satellite image of The Pearl Wreck shipwreck at low tide.

Photo: Saleh Alaurfi
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