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MBI Al Jaber Lecture Series: “Endangered Cultural Heritage of the Middle East: Yemen and Oman” by Dr Robert Bewley and Dr Michael Fradley.

“Endangered Cultural Heritage of the Middle East: Yemen and Oman” was the fourth lecture of the 2018/19 MBI Al Jaber Lecture Series at SOAS, University of London. It was presented by Dr Robert Bewley and Dr Michael Fradley, Director and Research Associate at Endangered Archaeology in the Middle East and North Africa (EAMENA) respectively. This talk was co-hosted with the British Foundation for the Study of Arabia and the British-Yemeni Society.

Dr Robert Bewley Dr Michael Fradley

Robert Bewley started by introducing what EAMENA is and explaining who its partners and patrons are. Its partners include: the Arcadia Fund and the Cultural Protection Fund, as well as a network of universities from across the UK.

Robert later explained what preserving archaeology in the MENA region means by providing a few examples from aerial photography projects that EAMENA has run in Jordan and Iraq, also touching upon sites that are today on the World Heritage List. Robert also pointed out how the main tasks for archaeologists involved in projects of this kind include recording, storing and analysing the data that they collect, to allow local and supranational authorities to decide about further actions to be taken. In this regard, EAMENA has so far collected 252.000 records of sites in the Middle East, from the prehistoric to Islamic ages.

Although EAMENA’s archaeological interest stretches from Morocco to Iran, this lecture specifically focused on Yemen and Oman; the former being discussed by Dr Michael Fradley. He started by highlighting the difficulties that archaeologists are faced with in war-torn countries. Yemen’s cultural heritage doesn’t appear to have been damaged as badly as that of other territories, which allowed for a better performance of new technologies employed by the EAMENA team, such as satellite imagery. This type of device enables readers of satellite data to determine the conservation state of a given site over a certain timespan with accuracy and to identify the causes of its damage.

Another focus of EAMENA with regard to Yemen has been that of collecting historic materials, for instance, from the Bodleian Library of the University of Oxford (where the project is based), in order for archaeologists to compile an all-encompassing, digitised and open-access archive of references for damaged and destroyed archaeological heritage from as early as the time of British rule over Yemen. The final scope of the surveys that have so far been conducted is to provide local authorities in the sphere of cultural heritage with some material so that they can continue with what has been started by EAMENA.

Robert Bewley then shared some of the results from his experiences with aerial photography in Oman. What stood out during his talk is the richness of untracked archaeology in the country. The status of Omani archaeological heritage is a constantly evolving one, with modern settlements sometimes being built around or inside the sites. Robert recounted his experience of flying over Oman, the assistance his team were given by the Royal Air Force of Oman and the success of their operations during 2018 and 2019, despite the hardships posed by flying restrictions within the state itself.

The audience was impressed by the initiative of the EAMENA team and a number of questions were raised. The next presentation of the MBI Al Jaber Lecture Series will be “A Legacy of T.E. Lawrence – The University of the Desert” by Mark Evans MBE. For more details, please see our Forthcoming Events page.

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