Highlighting the Seventh World Archaeological Congress
Thousands of archaeologists live and work in the Middle East, home to some of the most significant archaeological sites in the world. Their work (like all anthropological research) is influenced by a myriad of factors including Western epistemologies, colonialism, ethnic conflict and the availability of funding. And, scholars everywhere are increasingly aware of the role of heritage in promoting social justice, political reflexivity, and the democratization of knowledge. The upcoming Seventh World Archaeological Congress (WAC-7) will take place in Jordan, a country with a rich cultural and historical landscape, including four sites on the World Heritage list and another fifteen nominations, and complex issues relating to archaeological practice. In this article, as an introduction to the academic program at WAC-7, the continuing influences of the West and colonialism on Jordanian archaeology and heritage management are discussed.
Cultural Heritage Management in Jordan
Long before Jordan became an independent political entity in 1921, Western travelers and archaeologists with special interest in distant pasts and Biblical sites excavated, documented and collected archaeological artifacts in Bilad al Sham (the Levant or “Greater Syria”). In post-colonial Jordan, a Western archaeology presence is sustained through archaeological institutes and centers that conduct excavations and conservation projects under supervision of, and in cooperation with, the Department of Antiquities of Jordan (DAJ).
An example of this association and influence is the DAJ’s previous monument-oriented and aesthetic-based approach to archaeological sites. Many sites that lacked monumentality and aesthetic value were destroyed, especially during unprecedented construction and development in the 1980s. Reacting against the rapid loss of archaeological sites, the American Center for Oriental Research joined the DAJ in a request for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to fund a cultural resources management (CRM) Program in Jordan in 1986 (Greene in “Preserving which Past for whose Future?” 1999; Palumbo et al, “Cultural Resources Management in Jordan, 1987–1992,” 1993). Initially, the CRM program focused on identifying, evaluating and protecting the widest possible range of archaeological sites, but the funding agency shifted its strategy in 1989 to selecting specific sites based on their potential as tourist destinations (Green 1999). Once again, this shift demonstrates influence of a form of Western hegemony over the past, and the lack of national critical engagement in practices concerned with material of the past. The official approach to archaeological sites in Jordan is designed to provide a physically and mentally “peaceful” experience for western tourists. Rather than serving local cultural heritage interests, this approach views sites as cash generators.
Jordanian laws concerning cultural heritage management also reflect the impact of colonialism. For example, the Antiquity Law, issued during the British mandate in 1924, subsequently amended, protects the material of the past, movable or immovable, that dates before AD 1700. Local scholars have examined the reasons behind excluding the recent past. Al-Mahadin (“Tourism and the Power Relations in Jordan: Contested Discourses and Semiotic Shifts,” 2007) suggests the exclusion of the recent past has a political explanation; the recent past associated with the Ottoman existence is colonial, and thus unworthy of protection. Conversely, Daher (“Heritage Conservation in Jordan: The Myth of Equitable and Sustainable Development,” 2000) builds his understanding of the law on the western-based approach to archaeology that Jordan inherited from its colonizer, which neglected the recent past and focused on the distant one. The Jordanian Heritage Law, issued in 2003, protects material of the past dated after AD 1750, identifying it as “heritage.” Thus, this law officially excludes the distant past from the scope of heritage. This exclusion ignores cultural continuity, and the roots that Jordan has in time and place, as it implies, theoretically, that the only time that matters in shaping the present and future of Jordan is the colonial period. However, urban renewal projects in Jordan’s capital city and many cities in the Arab world make us question the importance of such laws. In these cities, buildings and landscapes that represent evolution and development during crucial times in the establishment of modern nation states are easily sacrificed, either to “clear” the view for an ancient theatre or temple, or to make room for a soulless, global architecture.
Seventh World Archaeological Congress
Thus, heritage management in Jordan is intricately complex, as debates concerning its origin and practice reference a number of important anthropological issues. For more discussion on heritage management in the Middle East, as well as other contemporary issues in archaeology, anthropology and heritage studies, please join us at WAC-7 in Jordan. WAC is a non-governmental, not-for-profit organization and is the only representative world-wide body of practicing archaeologists. WAC seeks to promote: interest in the past in all countries; recognition of the historical, social and political context of archaeology; relevance of archaeological studies to the wider community; professional training and public education for disadvantaged nations, groups and communities; and the empowerment and support of Indigenous groups and First Nations peoples.
WAC-7 will take place from January 14–18, 2013 on the Dead Sea in Jordan, and will include hundreds of prominent scholars, students and specialists. WAC-7 is organized as an international forum for high level discussion for anyone who is concerned with the study of the past. By providing support for 200–300 people from low income countries, students and Indigenous groups, WAC Congresses create a unique opportunity for the sharing of knowledge from around the world.
To participate in WAC-7, view the themes and sessions already approved for the engaging scientific program, or contribute to WAC’s efforts to redress the economic disparities relating to the practices of heritage management that exist around the globe, please visit: http://wac7.worldarchaeologicalcongress.org