Saturday, December 03, 2011

Libyan archaeology after the revolution

by Salman Hameed

Leptis Magna, 2nd century AD
Now that the things are settling a bit, there are hopes that archaeologists will not only be able to resume their work there, but may even have some further support from the Libyan government for research. Like its neighbors, Algeria and Egypt, Libyan terrain provides a fertile ground for archaeological remains. And much is still unexplored. From Science:
As for archaeology, Mattingly and colleagues tend to burst out in superlatives when they describe Libya's riches, which include five UNESCO-designated World Heritage Sites: the Greek city of Cyrene; Leptis Magna, the Roman city where emperor Septimius Severus was born; a Phoenician trading post called Sabratha; Ghadam├Ęs, an ancient oasis town; and a vast collection of rock paintings near the Algerian border. 
On top of that, there are massive hidden treasures, says Mattingly, who runs a U.K. project in the Sahara called Desert Migrations, spanning everything from the northward movement of early hominins to ancient desert civilizations and 19th century trade routes. “The evidence is everywhere you look, and it's of extraordinary value,” he says. “It's the envy of the rest of the world.”                   
The museums and most of the sites fortunately escaped harm in the recent fighting. However, the future of the archaeology in Libya is far from certain:
Just how Libyan archaeology will evolve depends to a large degree on what happens to the country's Department of Antiquities. Its director, Salah Agab—whom Science was unable to contact—was suspended from his job, Michel says, like many other high-ranking officials, but he has since been reinstated. Mattingly hopes that Agab will keep his post, calling him a “wonderful guy and genuinely someone of vision.” But the department needs to be rebuilt and strengthened, Mattingly adds. 
Scientists from other disciplines who have worked in Libya are eager to return as well. “If things settle down really quickly, I could be back next year,” says University of Chicago paleontologist Paul Sereno, who visited Libya to finalize a study agreement 10 days before the uprising started. With Libyan partners, Sereno hopes to search for dinosaur fossils in a mountain ridge extending along the coast. “It's really terra incognita,” he says, “and as the Earth gets smaller, it's great to have a place that is that unknown.” 
“Gaddafi cared a lot about security but not really about science and education,” says Salem Sharata, who teaches geology at the University of Az Zawiyah. Yet Sharata senses that Libya is finally moving in the right direction. But it will continue to need help, he says. “I hope you guys won't leave us alone.”
Read the full article here (you may need subscription to access the article).                    

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