A renowned house of worship in Egypt. The famed Nabataean city in Jordan. A Neolithic settlement in Lebanon. These historic sites, along with thousands of others in the Middle East and North Africa, are currently at risk. The threats they face are numerous: armed conflict, looting, tourist traffic, construction, and more. To highlight the sheer scope of the problem, a team of British researchers have launched a detailed database cataloguing 20,000 archaeological sites at risk, Claire Voon reports for Hyperallergic.
The Endangered Archaeology in the Middle East and North Africa (EAMENA) Database, which is available in both Arabic and English, relies on data from satellite imagery and published reports. The resource features an interactive map that traces the distribution of sites under threat. You can click on select locales for information about how the sites were once used, and the types of disturbances that have occurred over the years. A pre-populated search function lets users browse through general categories—like “Pendants,” a type of circular burial enclosure that is associated with some 700 sites in the database—and through specific locations.
Take Bu Njem, a third-century Roman fort and settlement in Libya, for example. The EAMENA entry lists the site’s functions (military, defensive, domestic, funerary), its many archaeological features (a barrack, a bath house, a cemetery, a temple), and the bevy of disturbances affecting it (wind action, irrigation channels, bulldozing, road and track building). The overall condition of the site, according to the entry, is “poor.”
Researchers at the Universities of Oxford, Leicester and Durham created the database in 2015 with support from the Arcadia Fund, a non-profit that seeks to preserve endangered heritage sites. The EAMENA team wanted to build a uniform catalogue of historic locations that are facing a growing onslaught of threats, according to a University of Oxford press statement. The resource was only recently made available to the public.
“Not all damage and threats to the archaeology can be prevented, but they can be mitigated through the sharing of information and specialist skills,” Robert Bewley, professor at Oxford’s School of Archaeology and head of the EAMENA project, says 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.”
Going forward, the EAMENA team plans to keep updating the database, so the public and experts can monitor the precarious reality of many archaeological sites.