The Arcadia Fund

Arcadia serves humanity by preserving endangered cultural heritage and ecosystems. We protect complexity and work against the entropy of ravaged and thereby starkly simplified natural environments and globalized cultures. Innovation and change occur best in already complex systems. Once memories, knowledge, skills, variety, and intricacy disappear – once the old complexities are lost – they are hard to replicate or replace. Arcadia aims to return to people both their memories and their natural surroundings. What we want to preserve remains fragile, small and dispersed. But if we do not protect it – if it vanishes forever – then future generations will have no base from which to build a vibrant, resilient, green future.

We also promote open access, seeking to make information available without barriers of cost or distance. Charities, businesses, universities, schools, the media, politicians, and citizens all benefit when research and data are no longer locked behind paywalls or reserved for those who live near their repositories. The economy benefits too from better-informed decisions, improved schooling and knowledgeable citizens, from enhanced academic research and innovation based on shared knowledge.

The Endangered Archaeology in the Middle East and North Africa Project EAMENA)

The Arcadia Fund has supported the EAMENA project since 2015, with grants now totalling £3.28m based at the Universities of OxfordLeicester, and Durham. The project team is documenting sites and assessing the increasing threats to archaeological sites in the Middle East and North Africa. This project uses satellite imagery to rapidly record and make available information about archaeological sites and landscapes which are under threat from agriculture, conflict, construction, looting and natural erosion.

EAMENA’s primary aim is to rapidly record and evaluate the status of the archaeological landscape of the MENA region in order to create an accessible body of data which can be used by national and international heritage professionals to target those sites most in danger and better plan and implement the preservation and protection of this heritage.

Since the Arab Spring in 2011, and as a result of on-going conflicts, archaeological sites and landscapes in the region have come under increased threat with a break down in the authority of some local and national governments. The targeted destruction of iconic monuments by ISIS or Daesh has provoked public outrage and raised the profile of the cultural heritage. Looting, too, has had an impact on the region’s cultural heritage fuelled by the illicit trade in antiquities. In 2016 the project was joined by Dr Neil Brodie, one of the UK’s leading experts on looting and the illicit trade in antiquities. Dr Brodie co-authored (2000, with Jennifer Doole and Peter Watson) the report Stealing History commissioned by the Museums Association and ICOM-UK to advise upon the illicit trade in cultural objects.

There is a longer-term threat posed by the political breakdown and the eventual post-war construction boom, which could result in the wholesale redevelopment of sections of these sites. The region has also seen a huge rise in populations so the pressure for more water, food and places to live and work is causing as much damage as any other agent of destruction.

Therefore to create an international inventory of sites that have not been recorded before is crucially important, so that knowledge and records of eroded, and in some cases completely destroyed, significant archaeological sites are maintained for future generations to use.

EAMENA’s spatial database provides the fundamental information for each site, including the level of risk and how sites relate to one another. The database is accessible to all heritage professionals and institutions with an interest and passion for the wonderfully rich and diverse archaeological heritage of the Middle East and North Africa. Not all damage and threats to the archaeology can be prevented, but they can be mitigated. It the first open-access digital archaeological record for the MENA region (covering over 20 countries from Mauritania to Iran).

At the core of the project is the desire for excellence in heritage management. To this end, EAMENA works with relevant authorities on the ground to limit likely damage, share information and skills, strengthen networks and raise awareness. Fieldwork and outreach are essential components of the project and the EAMENA team will target investigations to the most threatened sites, visiting (where possible) to assess site conditions, make detailed records and liaise with national authorities to share data and findings.