The J. Paul Getty Trust announced this week that it will invest $100 million to safeguard and preserve ancient archaeological sites around the world.
Called Ancient Worlds Now: A Future for the Past, the project is slated to officially launch next summer and will continue through at least 2030. According to a press release, Getty will partner with schools and universities, cultural institutions, NGOs, and the private sector to protect at-risk world history and heritage.
In general, the project will attempt to protect ancient sites from economic development, overtourism, political pressures, war and climate change. It will also support conservation and education efforts, digitization projects as well as exhibitions and presentations.
“Cultural heritage embodies a global community united by a common need to make things of beauty and usefulness, and to compose stories and rituals about humanity’s place in the world,” Getty president and CEO James Cuno says in a statement. “We will launch with urgency and build momentum for years to come. This work must start now, before more cultural heritage is neglected, damaged, or destroyed. Much is at stake.”
Each element of the Getty Trust has committed to several projects so far. The Conservation Institute is helping to develop a conservation master plan for the mosaics at Paphos, Cyprus, which were created by the ancient Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, early Christians, Franks and Ottomans. It will also train conservationists in Abu Dhabi on the proper conservation of Earthen Architecture.
The Getty Foundation is engaged in making digital maps and archives of the Çatalhöyük World Heritage site in Turkey and Pompeii in Italy and will help train Iraqi heritage specialists in the latest conservation techniques for Middle Eastern antiquities.
The Getty Museum has a full slate of exhibitions that will run between 2019 and 2025 highlighting ancient sites, including shows on Assyria, Mesopotamia, Persia and Thrace in the hopes of raising the profiles of these ancient cultures and their associated heritage sites.
The Getty Research Institute is supporting projects like digitizing and translating the Florentine Codex, which chronicles pre-Hispanic Mexican culture and the conquest of the Aztecs. The Pre-Hispanic Art Provenance Initiative will chronicle the art market for ancient items from the Americas.
Speaking with Nancy Kenney at The Art Newspaper, Cuno says that the initiative is a recognition of the threats to human heritage that have emerged over the last 20 years. “This is something that became much more serious with the rise of ISIS,” he says. That terrorist organization destroyed most of the ancient city of Palmyra in Syria and looted countless archaeological sites during its rampage across the Middle East in the 2010s. “People were wringing their hands but doing little to raise awareness or intervene. But there’s a benign neglect, too. People are studying the ancient world far less than they did before. We wanted to make sure that the histories remain alive and fresh.”
ISIS isn’t the only group destroying the world’s heritage. In 2013, rebel groups in Timbuktu began burning the ancient city’s libraries, threatening thousands of precious manuscripts. Meanwhile, last year, militants bombed ancient churches in Sri Lanka and war in Yemen continues to obliterate archaeological sites.
And war is not the only threat. Development projects and urbanization endanger other sites, like Machu Picchu, where some fear a new airport and increased tourism will fundamentally change the historic sanctuary forever.