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Endangered Archaeology in the Middle East and North Africa

This project, supported by the Arcadia Fund and based at the Universities of Oxford and Leicester, will use satellite imagery to record and make available information about archaeological sites and landscapes which are under threat across the Middle East and North Africa. The archaeological heritage of the Middle East and North Africa, which is of international significance for all periods, is under increasing threat from massive and sustained population explosion, agricultural development, urban expansion, warfare, and looting.

Case studies

1. Roman Military Sites in the Eastern Desert of Egypt

The Eastern Desert of Egypt is a harsh and mountainous environment, and is generally ill-suited for large-scale settlement, but it is nevertheless an extremely important historical and archaeological landscape. Several important routes run through the region, connecting the agriculturally productive Nile Valley along its west side, to the coast of the Red Sea on its east. In addition, the region is rich in natural resources, including gold, gems, and marble. Archaeological evidence for the use of these routes and the exploitation of these resources has been found from prehistoric times onwards.

During the 1st to 3rd centuries AD the Roman army built several forts and other structures along these key routes through the desert in order to establish a degree of control in the region and take advantage of the available resources. Many of these sites have been the subject of archaeological investigations, and have contributed a great deal to our understanding of both the activities of the army and the economic exploitation of the region during the Roman period.

In recent years, however, a number of these sites have been damaged or completely destroyed. One such is the fort of Didymoi, constructed in the 1st century AD. Digital Globe imagery obtained via Google Earth shows the fort in good condition in 2010, but by 2013 the imagery clearly shows that it has been damaged, probably by bulldozers (Figure 1). Now, as mentioned above, we have had a report that Didymoi has been completely destroyed, and at least two other sites in the region have apparently suffered similar fates.

2. Case studies of endangered archaeology in the al-Jufra, Libya

The al-Jufra oases in Libya consist of three towns; Waddan, Hun and Sukna. Although there has been little archaeological work, the oases are of international significance as the likely centre for several Berber polities and for their crucial role in Trans-Saharan trade. Our satellite imagery analysis has identified 86 individual sites that allow us to begin to construct an initial chronology including settlements, gardens, field systems and foggaras. However, these are highly endangered from a number of threats and analysis of older imagery has revealed that many have already been destroyed. The surviving sites are under threat primarily from construction and cultivation.

[source: official project website]


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